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,?;,.!}' 10 PLJ BLIC LIBRARY 






BURNING LIGHTS 



T 



947.6 C13b 
Chagal 1 , Bel la . 
Burning light s 



BELLA CHAGALL 

BURNING LIGHTS 

THIRTY-SIX DRAWINGS BY 

MARC CHAGALL 




SCHOCKEN BOOKS 



Copyright 1946 by Marc Chagall 

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American 

Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by 

Schocken Books Inc., New York. Distributed by Pantheon Books, 

a division of Random House, Inc., New York. 

First Schocken Paperback edition 1962 

Translated by Norbert Guterman 
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Chagall, Bella, 1895-1944. 
[Brenendike likht. English] 

Burning lights/Bella Chagall; thirty-six drawings by 
Marc Chagall. 

p. cm. 
Translation of: Brenendike likht. 

ISBN 0-8052-0863-1 

1. Chagall, Bella, 1895-1944. Z.Jews-Byelorussian S.S.R.- 
Vitebsk Biography. 3. Jews Byelorussian S.S.R. Vitebsk 
Social life and customs. 4. Vitebsk (Byelorussian S.S.R.) 

Biography. 

I. Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. II. Title. 

DS135.R95C4713 1988 

947'.656004924-dcl9 

[B] 87-37459 

Manufactured in the United States of America 



CONTENTS 



HERITAGE 9 

THE COURTYARD 13 

THE BATH *5 

SABBATH 4 

THE MELAMMED 63 

ROSH-HA-SHANAH 73 

DAY OF ATONEMENT 82 

SUKKOT Q^ 

SIMCHAT TORAH *o6 

THE FIRST SNOW **5 

THE HANUKKAH LAMP 12* 

THE FIFTH LIGHT **6 

HANUKKAH MONEY ^ 

THE SHOP J 54 

PURIM GIFTS l &* 

THE BOOK OF ESTHER * 75 

THE PURIM PLAYERS 185 

DINNERTIME *93 



HUNTING FOR CHOMETZ 2O2 

PASSOVER EVE 205 

THE SEDER 22O 

ELIJAH THE PROPHET 235 

THE AFIKOIMEN 24! 

TISHAH B'AV 244 

A WEDDING 248 

GLOSSARY 265 



Bella Chagall <was born in Vitebsk, Russia, in a Has- 
sidle family, on December i$ y 1895. Her parents 
were Samuel Noah Rosenfeld and Alta, nee Levant. 
She was the youngest of seven children. 

After graduating from the Vitebsk Gymnasium for 
girls, she became a student in the faculty of Letters 
at the University of Moscow in 1912. In her student 
years she contributed to the Moscow newspaper Utro 
Rossii. 

In 1914 Marc Chagall returned -from Paris to his 
native Vitebsk. Marc and Bella Chagall, who had been 
childhood friends, married in Vitebsk on July 25, 
2915. 

In 1922 the Chagall -family settled in Paris. Bella 
translated into French and edited Marc ChagalPs auto 
biography "My Life" 

Bella Chagall visited Palestine in 1931 and Vilna in 
1935* The contact 'with Jewish life impressed her so 
deeply that she began to 'write in Yiddish. 

Bella Chagall died at Cranberry Lake, N. Y., on 
September 2, 1944. 



HERITAGE 



IT is an odd thing: a desire comes to me to write, 
and to write in my faltering mother tongue, which, 
as it happens, I have not spoken since I left the home 
of my parents. 

Far as my childhood years have receded from me, 
I now suddenly find them coming back to me, closer 
and closer to me, so near, they could be breathing into 
my mouth. 

I see myself so clearly a plump little thing, a tiny 
girl running all over the place, pushing my way from 
one door through another, hiding like a curled-up 
little worm with my feet up on our broad window 
sills. 

My father, my mother, the two grandmothers, my 
handsome grandfather, my own and outside families, 
the comfortable and the needy, weddings and funer 
als, our streets and gardens all this streams before 
my eyes like the deep waters of our Dvina. 

My old home is not there any more. Everything is 
gone, even dead. 

My father, may his prayers help us, has died. My 

[9] 



mother is living and God alone knows whether she 
still lives in an un- Jewish city that Is quite alien to her. 
The children are scattered In this world and the other, 
some here, some there. But each of them, in place of 
his vanished inheritance, has taken with him, like a 
piece of his father's shroud, the breath of the parental 
home. 

I am unfolding my piece of heritage, and at once 
there rise to my nose the odors of my old home. 

My ears begin to sound with the clamor of the shop 
and the melodies that the rabbi sang on holidays. 
From every corner a shadow thrusts out, and no 
sooner do I touch it than it pulls me Into a dancing 
circle with other shadows. They jostle one another, 
prod me in the back, grasp me by the hands, the feet, 
until all of them together fall upon me like a host of 
humming flies on a hot day. I do not know where to 
take refuge from them. And so, just once, I want very 
much to wrest from the darkness a day, an hour, a 
moment belonging to my vanished home. 

But how does one bring back to life such a moment? 

Dear God, it is so hard to draw out a fragment of 
bygone life from fleshless memories! And what if 
they should flicker out, my lean memories, and die 
away together with me? 

I want to rescue them. 

I recall that you, my faithful friend, have often in 
affection begged me to tell you about my life in the 
time before you knew me. So I am writing for you. 

[10] 



Our town is even dearer to you than to me. And 
you, with your full heart, will understand even what 
I shall not succeed in telling. 

Only one thing torments me. My sweet little daugh 
ter, who spent only a single year of her life in my 
parental home and this as a one-year-old child will 
she understand me? Let us hope that she will. 



Saint-Die, France, 



THE COURTYARD 



TN THE daytime after dinner our apartment is de- 
JL serted. Everyone has gone out. A big place, and 
no one there. One might as well bring in the goat 
from the courtyard or the chickens in the cage under 
the stove. 

Only from the kitchen there comes the clatter of 
dishes being washed there. 

"Have you swept the dining room?" The voice in 
the kitchen pushes out Sasha with a long broom in her 
hand. 

"What are you doing here?' 5 she assails me. 

"Nothing!" I answer as always. 

"Get out, I have to sweep the room." 

"Who is stopping you? Go ahead, sweep it!" 

She sweeps up the floor, and with the rubbish she 
sweeps out the last voices that have sounded in the 
room. The dining room has gone cold now. 

The walls suddenly are old, their faded paper 
strikes the eye. The empty table stands like some 
thing superfluous in the middle of the room. It seems 
to me that I too am a superfluous thing here. 



Where shall I take myself? I wander about in the 
house. I come to the bedroom. The little beds, all cov 
ered and smooth, stand there uninviting. Who would 
lie down on them in the middle of the day? 

Father's and mother's high beds are forbidding 
with their nickel gleam. The nickel bars in front, in 
back, their thick ball tops, guard them like sentries 
on watch. 

When one comes closer to them, the nickel shoots 
at one with its metallic glint. When I look into it, 
my face is distorted, my nose is split. I run away from 
it and I bump against a locked door. I have quite for 
gotten that there is a parlor. 

The door is always locked. I am always afraid of 
that room. Since my brother's wedding, when for the 
sake of the bride's family, the old Viennese chairs 
were replaced with new, soft furniture, the parlor has 
become unfamiliar it seems to have separated itself 
from our apartment. 

In the parlor it is dark. On the sofa lies a dense 
moss of thick green plush. When anyone sits down 
on it, even if it is only the cat, its steel springs utter a 
groan, as though they were always sick and could not 
bear to have anybody press them. 

The rug too is green, as if grass were growing on 
it. And the few pink flowers embroidered on it ward 
one off; I fancy that the shadow of someone's feet 
may be lying on the rug and will not let anyone 
step on it. 



Even the tall, long mirror has turned green. Night 
and day the green furniture is reflected in it. 

An old palm stands wretched near the window, 
drying up in the green gloom. The window is always 
closed, curtained; the palm never sees the sun. 

Instead of the sun, there shine for it a couple of 
bronze candelabras on their high stands in the cor 
ners. Into the candelabras are stuck short white can 
dles that are never lighted. From the ceiling hangs a 
chandelier, also of bronze; only the dangling white 
crystals make it alive. At night the palm thinks that 
something shines for it from the ceiling sky, and that 
little stars glimmer down from the crystal pendants. 

It must be stronger than iron to hold out day after 
day, months, years. 

No one stops in the parlor. Everyone just quickly 
crosses it like a bridge leading from one room to an 
other. 

True, father prays there in the morning in his talis 
and tefillin. Perhaps he thinks that he goes out to pray 
on a green meadow. And during the day when he 
goes there to look for a book in the bookcase, he does 
not even glance at this piece of furniture. 

The bookcase is the only old piece of furniture that 
has remained in the parlor. It has been left where it 
always stood, in a corner next to the door. Because it 
is crammed full of books, it probably could not be 
moved. Absorbed in its books, it stands there as 
though it had no relation to all of the life of the house. 



I approach it as though it were an old relative; I 
touch it with a light tap, and its short legs begin to 
creak. It is hard for them to support the whole book 
case. 

I peer through its doors. There is shelf upon shelf, 
each like a separate oratory. Here, in black boards, 
hard on one another, turning their backs to the glass, 
stand tall, lean gemaras, like old Jews lined up along 
a wall for the Shemoneh Esreh. 

On another shelf thick bibles and machzors, sid- 
durs, and psalters spread themselves. So many wom 
en's prayer books are piled on the lowest shelves that 
one almost hears a murmur coming from there. 

I fancy that all the books are upset because I am 
gazing at them. I run away; they cry after me as my 
old grandfather shouted at mother, asking why they 
were teaching me Russian, why they did not rather 
hire a teacher to teach me Yiddish. 

"Oh," I suddenly remind myself, "my little teacher 
will be coming soon, with whom I fall asleep over- 
die alphabet." I must save myself from him. 

"Where are you running like mad, Bashke?" Sasha 
asks, stopping nie. 

"What business is that of yours?" I fling back at 
her. "Not anywhere." 

I run out into the courtyard. 

The balcony, although of iron, bends under my 
feet. The bars are narrow and widely spaced, my 
heels get stuck in the openings* The wall is high. 

[16] 



From below, from above, stairs ran up and down, one 
twisting above the other. The handrails hold them 
up like chains. 

The uppermost stairs lead up to the glass-roofed 
attic; a photographer lives there. The lowest stairs 
wind down and stop almost in the middle of the 
courtyard. 

There, under the very lowest step, is my nook. 
There I play, there is my shop, there I dry my cakes 
of wet sand. There lie my tin cans that once held sar 
dines; now they are filled with groats, oatmeal, all 
kinds of little stones, shards, pieces of colored glass 
everything that I find in the courtyard and every 
thing that I save from being trampled upon by stran 
gers' feet. 

The courtyard, small and square, is like a box 
closed in by high walls. There a world of people is 
living. The sun does not come there. Above, a patch 
of sky gleams. Shadows of light fall from the walls. 

All around are the windows and doors of the big 
Hotel BrozL Each window belongs to a separate 
apartment. From each a different head sticks out, and 
every day it is a different one. As soon as a new guest 
arrives, the curtain is lowered in the window. 

"You see, little miss, new guests have arrived," says 
the baker, who has come into the courtyard to cool 
off. He points to the curtained window. "Very likely 
they are just up from the train, and they are taking 
a rest. You won't be noisy in the courtyard, little girl, 



eh?" he says to me. He swallows a breath of fresh 
air, and goes quietly back to the kitchen. 

Noisy, I? 

I do not have time to ask him. He might at least 
tell me why all the travelers are tired. After all, it is 
the train that runs, not they. 

The old baker knows that I am afraid of him, afraid 
of his flour-smeared face, of his high white cap and 
white smock. 

I, noisy? Don't I sit quietly on the steps? It is noisy 
enough in the courtyard without me. The hotel serv 
ants scurry around there like mice. Back and forth- 
one goes out, another goes in, one drags something, 
another fills or empties something. Jewish women 
come in from the street to sell eggs, chickens, cream. 
This makes a hubbub. 

The hens cluck. The cat crawls underfoot, seeking 
a morsel of food. The dog comes running, his tongue 
hanging out, his tail up in the air. That frightens the 
cock and he tries to squirm out of the hands that hold 
him. The cat hides in a corner. 

The dog runs about over the whole courtyard, 
sniffs everywhere, as though he were the chief stew 
ard, who must give an accounting of everything to the 
proprietor. The attendants jostle one another, ex 
change taunts. 

"Buy the cock," the street peddler begs them. 

"Go with your cock to all the black years! He is 
older than Terah!" 

[18] 



"God be with you! May my hands and feet dry up 
if I am cheating you!" 

"Get out of here, you old witch! Do you hear 
what you're told? If you don't" 

The old woman, as well as the cock in her hand, 
falls silent. She stands there waiting: perhaps the goy's 
wrath will subside. Now he is taking someone else to 
task. 

"Where are you crowding in, you devil? You've 
rolled my barrel right into the mud! " 

"Who, what? You must be drunk, you dog's 
snout! You're picking a fight with everybody. Just 
wait, I'll show you" 

"Hey, Piotr, Stepan!" Someone calls to them from 
the kitchen. "May you both burn! Have you peeled 
the potatoes? The cook is waiting" 

The two goyim separate and run back. 

"Piotr, take the cock with you!" The peddler runs 
after them. "Show it in the kitchen. Just have it 
roasted you'll see, you'll lick your fingers!" 

No one listens to her. She screams her heart out. 
Head hanging, she shoves her cock back into her 
basket. 

"Gla-a-sha-a-a-a! Where are you, eh?" Suddenly 
there comes a call from the window, long drawn out, 
like a whistle. "Gla-a-sha-a-a-a! Come here! Where 
have you got lost? The lady in Number One is call 
ing for you!" 

Only the hotel laundresses, who iron Knen at the 

[19] 



open windows, do not revile one another. They sing f 
as though the heat of their irons were warming their 
hearts. Sometimes it seems that they are sobbing. 
Their sad melody goes on and on, just as the pile of 
linen thrown to them for ironing never grows less. 

Suddenly the two young daughters of the landlord 
run into the courtyard. They squeal with laughter. I 
jump toward them, and jump away again at once. 
The girls are spitting something for a moment I 
think it is blood. They are cracking freshly cooked 
red lobsters with their teeth. 

"What are you doing? Fie!" I think in fancy that 
they are swallowing bloody mice. 

"Ivan!" they shout into the open stable. "Lead out 
the horses, we are going for a ride at once!" 

In the stable, two tall horses begin to neigh, an 
swering their call. 

The horses' black, fat rumps glisten as though they 
had been polished with wax. Little tears of sweat roll 
down their hide. Steaming, they kick up their legs, 
shake their manes. Blindly they grope for the bag of 
oats that the coachman has hung on the wall. They 
poke their heads into the bag and fall asleep there. 
Only their long necks throb and bend, like trumpets 
thrust into the air. 

The coachman's hair and boots also glisten with 
grease. He stands by the horses, strokes them. 

"Ivan," I say to him, "haven't you just come back 
from town?" 

[zo] 



"Slu&hba me dmzhba~~& servant Is not a friend. 
Isn't it so, my horse?' 5 says Ivan, giving the horse a 
vigorous slap on the flank. 

The horses each stick out an eye from the bag to 
throw a glance at the coachman. Why doesn't he let 
them eat? They vent their anger on the flies, lashing 
out with their tails. 

Their overheated legs cannot stay still Their knees 
bend under them, then straighten out. Their hoofs 
scrape the ground; they are trying to find out what 
lies underfoot. Only a little while ago they were 
galloping across the town. In a flash they dashed 
through one street after another. And here in the 
stable, as soon as they stir, there is the drag of the 
heavy iron chains by which they are tethered to 
the beam. 

"H-r-r-r," they whinny while they eat. 

"M-m~mu m-m-mu," answers the cow from her 
shed, and keeps on mooing. 

I cannot restrain myself and I run to her. 

The horses' stable is at least open, they always have 
fresh air. But the cow is locked up like a thief in 
prison. 

A beautiful red animal and people are ashamed of 
her. Her shed is dark, dirty; It is situated in the corner 
of the yard, next to the garbage box. Its walls are 
thin. The slightest wind blows through them. Rain 
spatters in through the cracks. A large hole in the 
door serves the cow as a little window. Through it I 



gaze at her. She lies there without strength, her belly 
and legs sunk into the dirty straw. A swarm of flies 
are biting her. The cow does not stir; she might be a 
pile of garbage. 

Is she really such a lazybones? She does hear the 
humming of the flies, and occasionally, reluctantly, 
she raises her thin, long tail, all caked with mud, and 
drives away the flies. Of her entire body, only the 
head is alive. 

Now one ear lifts, now the other droops. The cow 
perceives every noise that comes from the courtyard. 
In her quiet, day-long sadness, she slowly ruminates 
each sound separately. She has a wet, weeping snout. 
Her eyes are full of tears that stay in the corners. 
Only now and then a tear rolls down her long nose. I 
cannot endure her gaze. Like a heavy stone, it weighs 
on my heart, as though it were my fault that she is 
locked up. 

"M-m-mu m-m-mu," I whisper to her through 
the dark hole. 

u M-m-mu m-m-mu," she answers heavily and 
slowly, and now stares at me with quiet joy because 
someone remembers her. But she knows that it is not 
I who will release her, who will open the door of her 
shed. 

So again her head droops sadly, and she lies there 
until the hour of milking comes. As soon as she sniffs 
the odor of the mush that they prepare for her with 
boiling water, she gathers up her pendulous belly, her 



legs, her udder, and takes up her post at the door. She 
stands there snuffing the air, and waits, listening to 
every step. 

She hears Sasha throwing into the trough big pieces 
of beets with long leaves, boiled potatoes, carrots. She 
hears the maid pouring boiling water into it, mixing 
the fodder, so that she, the cow, should not be scalded. 
Her tongue begins to hang out. She thumps on the 
door with her horns. 

As soon as Sasha opens the shed, the cow runs out, 
nimble, alive, stamping her feet, rolling her sides. 
Crusts of dried mud drop from her. She does not look 
at anyone. Only when she passes the carriage stand 
ing without its horses in the middle of the courtyard, 
the cow offhandedly gives it a push. It is her way of 
jostling the horses because they get much more atten 
tion than she does. 

She crawls into the trough up to her neck, laps the 
water, chews the greens. Her mouth drips and slob 
bers. Her cheeks rise and fall. Her belly swells like a 
blown-up bellows. Finally, still hungry, she licks the 
empty trough clean with her fearsome tongue. 

Then the servant goes up to her and gives her a slap 
on the belly. The cow is startled by Sasha's warm 
hand and allows herself to be milked. 

"Wait, Bashutke, don't go away/' Sasha says to me, 
"you'll soon be drinking a glass of raw milk." 

Sasha knows that I cannot bear to hear the squeak 
ing of the cow's teats as the milk gushes out and 



streams into the pail, like lather, full of foam. It seems 
to me that the milk tastes of sweat. 

u No, Sasha, I have no time. Here comes my 
teacher. I must go to my lesson," 

"Take at least a few drops!" 

"Tomorrow I'll take some." 

And I run away from her, laughing. 



THE BATH 



KR me the Sabbath begins as early as Thursday to 
ward sunset. In the late evening, mother runs 
quickly out of the shop as though trying to wrest her 
self by force from the weekday bustle. While she is 
still in the shop, I hear her calling out: "Bashke, 
where are you? We're going to the bathhouse. Sasha, 
is the linen ready? Hurry, hurry, I have no time!" 

The maid quickly wraps up the bundle of linen and 
ties it with a cord so heavy that the paper bursts. She 
helps me to put on my coat and galoshes and tightens 
my hood. I cannot breathe. 

"You silly little girl, don't cry," she says, wiping 
off the tears that well up in my eyes. "It's freezing 
out and all I need is that you should catch a cold, 
God forbid!" 

Almost furtively mother and I slip out through the 
front door of our apartment, as though it were al 
ready Saturday and the shop were closed. For mother 
would be ashamed to go through the shop with the 
bundle of linen under her arm, although it is wrapped 
in yellow paper. But the shop is full of men, and be- 



sides, who knows but that she might be detained there 
again. We are in a hnrry, chiefly because it is late. 
Indeed, mother has waited until the last moment to 
go. The sleigh that is to take us to the bathhouse must 
be waiting for us at the door. The driver, who Is al 
ways the same one (he is in fact stationed across from 
our house) knows that every Thursday evening, al 
most at the same hour, mother drives to the bath 
house. 

The cold, snowy evening at once envelops us in a 
sheet of frost. In the sleigh, covered with the worn- 
out fur blanket, I feel through mother's hand as she 
holds me lest, God forbid, I should slide down that 
she has already forgotten the shop and the bustle that 
she has just left. She is carried away in the sleigh 
somewhere into a pure air, as though she were already 
beginning to tremble in awe of all the holy texts that, 
God willing, she must recite before the Sabbath 
comes. 

We travel for not so long a time. The driver takes 
us by a short cut, along the bank of a little river, the 
Vitbe, near which stands the Jewish bathhouse. 

Our sleigh tears silently through the shimmering 
air. From the high bank of the river trembling little 
lights are beckoning. This is the glow from Padlo, the 
little market place, that lies up there on the heights. 

I know the market very well, I know its shop 
keepers and its little shops, sunk in the earth, and 



especially the dairy shops. Before going down the 
stone stairs to the dairy stalls, one had to call on the 
Lord's help, so wet and slippery were they. And it 
was cold there as in a grave. 

The gray walls dripped water. One single little 
lamp with a smoked-up glass served to light the whole 
cellar. Its tiny beam barely reached the mounds of 
yellow butter, the broad basin that held cream, and 
even less did it reach the corners where they kept 
hard, pointed Gomel cheeses, which stuck out like 
little children's heads. 

Only the high scales could be seen clearly. There 
they were in the middle of the cellar like a throne. 
Their iron chains swung in the air like two long black 
braids of hair, and their two brass trays proudly held 
a tiny bit of merchandise much as if they were sup 
porting Justice herself. 

The shopkeepers, in thick, greasy clothes, bustled 
about in the cellar. With their fingertips sticking out 
from their mitts they seized pieces of butter, poured 
pitchers of milk, and tossed curds just as they would 
snowballs. And while doing all this they yelled as 
though someone were beating them from behind. 
They were probably keeping warm in this way. From 
time to time a coarse word shot through the stuffy 
cellar. Curses flew out like little tongues of flame, set 
ting ablaze one little stall after another. 

"May the cholera take her, for the poisoned food 
she sells!" 

[27] 



"A curse on my years, if I am lying!*' 

The stallkeepers would begin to squeal like black 
mice in their holes. The curses glowed hotter along 
with the pots of hot coals outside, on which squatted 
stocky Jewish women peddlers holding bags of 
roasted beans under their shawls. The shopkeepers 
reviled one another so warmly and lustily that their 
dark cellars would grow almost cheerful. 

All these cries now accompany us from afar as 
mother and I drive to the bathhouse. The wind blows 
a curse at us, tosses it about in the air. The falling 
snow carries the curse down to the ground. And so 
we arrive. 

"Come back for us, God willing, in a couple of 
hours," mother says to the driver, although he has 
been doing this for years. 

In the frame vestibule we bump into the ticket 
seller, wrapped up like a bale of goods. At first she 
does not stir from her place. One sees only the end of 
her nose and the tips of her fingers. Next to the tick 
ets there is a glazed apple and a pear. A bit of blue 
kvassblue probably from the frost bubbles in a 
bottle. 

The cashier, as though absorbing our warm breath, 
slowly undoes her half -frozen mouth and gives us a 
cold smile. 

"It is cold to sit here the whole day," she says, 
beginning to revive. "The wind is blowing from all 



sides. A little more of this and one would freeze to 
death before at last a living being came." 

Mother encourages her with a smile and takes from 
her an apple or a pear for me. 

We push at the little door leading to the bath itself. 
The noise of the latch being raised arouses a couple 
of naked women resting under their shawls. Like 
startled flies they jump up from their benches and 
hum around us. 

"Good evening to you, good evening, Alta, my 
dear! So late! How are you, Alta? Are all the chil 
dren well? How are you, Bashinke?" 

The women touch me from all sides. 

"Ah, you're growing up as on yeastmay the evil 
eye spare you!" 

They are warmed up, they have not waited in vain. 
The shawls like black wings fall from their backs. Be 
fore me there flashes the whiteness of their bodies. 
Everything becomes purer, brighter, all about. 

The heat of the anteroom leading to the bath min 
gles with the cold outside air that has blown in. I can 
hardly recognize the bath attendants, although they 
are always the same. I used to think that every Thurs 
day they had grown older, uglier. The younger one, 
who still smells of her moldy shawl, seizes me at once 
with her bony hands. "It's cold, isn't it?" she says. 
"Well, have you unpinned your dress? Have you got 
another one with you? Well, we'll put it in the box. 

[30] 



Now, hold out your legcome on!" She urges me 
as if I were a colt. 

And before I have time to look around me, all the 
buttons of my shoes are unbuttoned, and the shoes 
with my twisted stockings fly into the black box on 
which I sit. My buttocks rise and fall with the lid of 
the box. I have not even had a chance to see what goes 
on inside the box, into which my belongings are 
tossed as into a dark pit. 

From the frosted window panes, coated over 
with snow like a pair of blind eyes, a wind blows. I 
shake from cold. The bath attendant snatches up my 
sheet and wraps me in it. "Well, wait awhile!" she 
says. "In a minute you'll be warm! See, we are going 
to the bath at once." 

I feel giddy. She drags me like a bewildered captive 
straight over to the little door. "Do not fall, Bashinke, 
God forbid," she says, pulling me with her steely 
hands. "Walk slowly, it's slippery." 

In the doorway to the bath my breath is cut off and 
I allow myself to be dragged along, half in a faint. A 
dense cloud veils my eyes. A little tin lamp hangs 
from its bent hook high above the door. Its chimney, 
tiny as it is, is still too large for it, and it wobbles in 
all directions as soon as one touches the door. 

I remain glued to the spot. I am afraid to move. The 
floor is slippery, full of water. Water drips on my 
feet, drips from the ceiling, from the walls; the whole 
of the little house is sweating from the heat. 



The attendant rushes to the buckets and rinses the 
slippery bench on which I am supposed to sit. She has 
no time to say a word to me. Her glistening, scrawny 
rump twists like the tail of a cat. 

Boiling water is poured out, seething. The buckets 
near me immediately breathe their heat into my face. 

The warmth of the bench soothes me and I allow 
the attendant to put my legs into a bucket of luke 
warm water. The woman comes closer to me. Her 
breasts hang before my eyes like deflated windbags, 
and her belly, with its skin taut like a drum, comes 
just under my nose. I am penned up between the 
buckets and the attendant's belly. I cannot turn, I 
cannot even think of turning. 

Her scratchy fingers gather up my long hair. With 
one motion she heaps it on my head and begins to rub 
it with a big cake of Zhukov soap. She pushes the 
soap back and forth as though she were ironing 
clothes with it on my head. 

Buried under hair, my head whirling, I have no 
time to think of crying. Smothering my tears, I pull 
out the bits of acrid soap that cut and bite my eyes. 
Soap gets into my ears, my mouth. Blindly I dip my 
fingers into a bucket of cold water beside me. 

I get down from the bench only when my hair is 
rinsed. Long drops of water roll down into my eyes 
and heal them. I catch my breath, straighten my back; 
my eyes open. 

I hear a creak of the door and on the threshold I 



see my whitely nude mother. She is immediately en 
veloped in the cloud of hot steam. Two attendants 
hold her at either side. Little tears of sweat drip from 
their hanging breasts and bellies. A thin little rain of 
drops, condensed from the steam, suddenly trickles 
from their hair behind their ears. 

Silent and embarrassed, mother stands at the door. 
Her attendants rush to the buckets, open wide all the 
taps. They pass steam over the bench for her. 

Mother calmly sits down and her body occupies 
the whole bench. Exhausted from being scrubbed, I 
hardly see her from where I am. She is ill at ease even 
before me and lowers her eyes as soon as my glance 
rests on her hair. Instead of her accustomed thickly 
curled wig, I see her own short, scraggly hair. Smoth 
ered for years without air under the heavy wig, it has 
thinned out. I become sad, suddenly losing my own 
strength, and allow myself to be washed without re 
sisting. 

My attendant seizes my body, she even lays hands 
upon my soul. She places me on the bench like a piece 
of dough and begins to rub and pinch me; she might 
be trying to knead a challa out of me. 

I turn over on my stomach, and she gives me such 
a whack on my bottom that I jump up. 

"Well, what do you say, Bashinke? It's good, isn't 
it?" says the attendant, suddenly recovering her 
speech. "Look, how red you have become! It's a 
pleasure to pinch you!" 

[33] 



Exhausted, I wait till I am rid of her. Suddenly I 
am frightened by a flood of water poured on me from 
behind. For a moment I am engulfed in the stream, 
the water lifts me and carries me as though I were in a 
river. This is the attendant rinsing me. From delight 
and heat, I melt like white wax, 

"Oof!" sighs the attendant, wiping her nose with 
her wet hands. "You're shining just like a little dia 
mond, Bashinke! May this give you health, my child! " 
She looks at me with her glassy eyes, faded by the 
water, and quickly wraps me in a warm sheet. 

Surely she will at last dry herself off a little. She 
slowly encircles me with her two arms as if I were her 
white Sabbath candles that she must bless. 

From a distance I watch what is being done to my 
mother. Surely she has been soaped and rubbed just 
as I have been, and surely she too has taken delight 
in the buckets of lukewarm water. But she is not 
through as quickly as I. 

After the scrubbing the older attendant pushes a 
low stool up to my mother and sits at her feet. She 
puts a brass candlestick on a little box and lights the 
piece of candle that is stuck in it. She fans the little 
flame and begins to complain to mother about her 
hard life. Her back sinks heavily, as though all her 
troubles were heaped on it; her drooping head is at 
mother's feet. "May God have mercy upon us and 
deliver us from all pain," she says, lifting her eyes 
from the ground. "So be it, Lord of the Universe!" 

[34] 




She must be trying to forget her own thoughts as 
she picks at mother's toes. The little flame burns 
brightly with each blessing she murmurs before cut 
ting the nail. And her heart becomes more serene, it 
seems, with each blessing. Mother, with lowered eyes, 
watches what the attendant does to her feet, listens 

[35] 



to her patter. Behind the burning candle both are 
fenced off from the dark bath chamber as within a 
crown of light. Their heads are close together, their 
white faces shine in a sort of purification. 

Having cleaned mother's toes, the old attendant 
raises her head and says in a low voice: "Now, Aha, 
let us go to the mikvah!" 

Mother swallows her breath as though the attend 
ant had told a secret. The two rise slowly, straighten 
their backs, sigh deeply, take a long breath as though 
preparing to cross the threshold of the holy of holies. 
Their white shadows vanish in the darkness. 

I am afraid to go too. One has to pass a hot cham 
ber where writhing souls lie in torment on long 
benches. Steaming besoms swing out of the air and 
lash them and spatter them with drops of hot water. 
Heavy breathing comes from the benches, as though 
all of them were being burned on hot coals. The heat 
presses into my mouth, seizes me by the heart. "This 
must be a hell for those who have committed many 
sins!" I think to myself and run after my mother to 
the mikvah, 

I stumble into a black chamber like a prison. On a 
staircase stands the old attendant. In one hand she 
holds the burning candle, from her other arm dangles 
a large white sheet. Mother I have been so fearful 
about her quietly descends the four slippery steps 
and goes into the water up to her neck. When the 
old Jewess cries out a blessing, mother is frightened. 



Like one condemned, she holds her nose, closes her 
eyes, and plunges into the water as though forever- 
God forbid! 

"Ko-o-o-sher!" cries the attendant, with the voice 
of a prophet. 

I am startled as by a thunderclap. Trembling, I 
wait surely now lightning will strike from the black 
ceiling and slay us all on the spot. Or perhaps a deluge 
will pour from the stone wall and drown us in the 
dark mikvah. 

"Ko-o-o-sher!" the attendant cries out again. 

Where is mother? The water does not splash any 
more. But suddenly the pool splits open and mother's 
head emerges. She shakes off water as if she were 
coming up from the very bottom of the sea. 

Three times the attendant cries out, and three times 
mother sinks into the black water. 

I am desperately waiting for the moment when the 
attendant will stop shouting, so that mother will no 
longer have to disappear in the water. After all, she is 
tired by now. Water streams down from her hair, 
from her ears. But she is smiling. Contentment spreads 
over her whole body. She walks from the water as 
from a fire, clean and purified. "May it do you good, 
may it give you health," the attendant says, smiling too. 

Her long, thin arms lift the sheet up high. Mother 
wraps herself in it as in a pair of huge white wings, 
and smiles on me like a white angel. 

[37] 



Dressed, all finished with my steaming* I chew my 
glazed apple, which has long since melted from the 
heat, and wait for mother. At once she begins to 
hurry, as though she recalls suddenly that it is a week 
day, that the shop is still open. The sanctity and the 
warmth of the bath slip from her. She is in a hurry to 
get dressed. The women tell her thek last tales of 
trouble, while one hands her dress to her, the other a 
shoe. They are probably afraid to leave anything un 
told, lest they should have to wait until the following 
Thursday to unburden their hearts. With trembling 
hands they wrap up our bundle of linen, and they 
wrap me too like a bundle. Swollen with warmth, I 
can hardly move. 

Mother distributes her tips and listens to the long 
benedictions with which the women send us off. 

"May it give you health, dear Altai Till next Thurs 
day, if God wills! Keep well, Bashinke! May it do 
you good!" One woman shouts louder than another, 
and all of them quickly cover themselves with their 
shawls. 

The door opens as of itself. For a moment we stop 
on the threshold. What cold! Snow is falling from the 
black sky. Stars glimmer, and snowflakes. Is it day or 
night? To my eyes all is white and cold. The driver 
and his horse have grown into a high white mountain. 
Are they frozen? "May you have health!" the driver 
says with a smile. 

His wet mustache comes unglued from his mouth. 
[38] 



Little lumps of snow fall from his thick eyebrows. 
The horse awakens to life and begins to neigh. 

"God speed you!" Voices call to us from the door 
of the bathhouse. 

The sleigh starts. 

"Hup, hup!" The driver lashes at his thin horse. 

Even faster than when she left, mother runs in at 
the front door and leaves her bundle of linen there. 
The smell of our apartment and of the shop hits her 
in the face. 

"God alone knows what has gone on here in my 
absence!" With a look of guilt, she hastens to wash 
her reddened face and then hurries to the shop. 

I am regretting that the warm bath has ended so 
soon. 



[39] 



SABBATH 



FROM the very morning, Friday begins differently 
from any other day. 

For breakfast, we find on the wide window ledges 
in addition to the flat cakes, rolls, and biscuits a 
pile of stuffed tsybulnikes. On Friday no dinner is 
cooked. Instead of hot food, everyone gets a tsybul- 
nik pressed into his hand. Big, thickly filled with fried 
onions, just as an oven is filled with red coals, the 
tsybulnik can barely be held in one's hand. The first 
bite pastes one's mouth shut, and the dough sticks in 
one's gullet until it is washed down with a glass of 
cold milk. 

"Never mind, you can eat it, you'll have time to 
get hungry again before supper," Sasha the maid 
urges me. 

On the eve of Sabbath our home is in a bustle all 
day long. From early morning there is chopping of 
onions. The kitchen is like a mill There is fire in the 
stove. Havah is cooking. Now she bakes chalk, then 
she plucks chickens. Soft feathers pile up in her 
apron, fly around her head like little chicks fluttering 

[40] 



their wings. Havah chops the mound of peeled onions 
in a small trough until they are transformed into a pile 
of wet hash. 

Havah's eyes grow wet. It seems that all of us smell 
of onion. Odors, one sharper than another, pervade 
the house. 

A thick, long fish wriggles in a bucket of water. 
With widened gills he heavily sucks up the drops. His 
last strength goes down to his tail, with which he 
splashes the whole bucket. Having spattered out the 
water, puffed out his final breath, the fish lies there 
with gaping mouth. His pointed fins stab one's eyes. 

It is as though not one fish but a whole netful has 
been scattered on the kitchen floor, and each of them 
wants to snap at us, bite our feet. The cook stands like 
an executioner before the outstretched pike. His skin 
still shines with drops of water. She holds the fish by 
his tail. He slips on the wet board. The cook seizes 
the cleaver and thrusts it into the plump belly of the 
fish. Clots of blood fall out. The fish bursts, The cook 
mercilessly cuts him to pieces. She separates the flesh, 
removes the skin. 

Hashed onions and soaked challa fill the fish with 
new blood. The stuffed pieces of fish, sprinkled with 
water, look almost alive. They leap seemingly of their 
own impulse into the copper pan and are boiled 
slowly on a small fire until they grow yellow and red. 
The smell tantalizes us, tickles our noses. It brings us 
the first taste of Sabbath. 



No one stays in his place any longer. The rebbe 
hurries to the bath with my younger brothers. Sasha 
busies herself in the dining room, rummages in the cup 
boards, teases one dawdling brother. "Well, you've 
had enough tea!" she says. "I must polish the samovar, 
it will be Sabbath soon!" 

"Why do you bother me?" he protests. "You don't 
even let me drink a glass of tea! A new rebbetzin, of 
all things!" 

Sasha, who has been with us for years, strictly ob 
serves the dietary laws about meat and milk foods and 
keeps the Sabbath like her own Sunday. Without a 
word, turning her back on my brother, she snatches 
the samovar from the table, takes under her arm the 
long tray and the drip bowl full of drops that have 
trickled down, snatches out of his hand the sugar box 
and a spoon. Laden like a donkey, she carries all these 
things to be scrubbed and polished in the kitchen. 

On her way she runs into Havah, who walks heav 
ily on her thick legs. With both hands Havah is hold 
ing up a large board, as though she had lifted up the 
floor and were carrying it before her. On the board, 
which is sprinkled with flour, are two or three plaited, 
glazed Sabbath loaves, sitting there like empresses. 
Smaller challas are arrayed around them. All their 
little heads are decked with thin, twisted braids. At 
the very edge of the board there is just room for a 
tiny challa that the cook has plaited for me from a 
leftover bit of dough. Just out of the oven, all the 

[43] 



chalks glisten with bronzed cheeks that might almost 
have got their tan from the sun. 

The cook gazes at them and delights in them. She 
does not want to let them go. "Thanks be to God, 
the challas turned out well!" she says, smiling and 
beaming. 

The challas slide slowly from the board onto the 
window ledge. Havah puts a towel under them and 
covers them with another towel, as though she feared 
that an evil eye might spoil them. Swelled with heat, 
the challas are smothered in their own vapors, and 
cool off slowly. 

Father enters, sits down at the table, draws a pen 
knife out of his pocket (how does father happen to 
have a penknife?) and unfolds a piece of tissue pa 
per. He puts his hands on the table and begins to cut 
his nails. He cuts them slowly, all round, in half- 
moons. The nails drop, rattle on the paper. Father 
wraps them into a little packet and with a blessing on 
his lips casts them into the stove. He watches how the 
packet burns and returns to the shop. 

"Havah, give me a piece of bread," pleads a Jewish 
beggar woman, edging into the kitchen. 

She is covered with rags; there is one worn-out 
shawl on her head, another on her shoulders. Her 
little face is wrinkled like the folds of her dress. Her 
small forehead is pushed up into the shawl; tangled 
knots of gray hair droop from under the shawl like 

[44] 



dust. Only the eyes glow out from the grayness, like 
the last pieces of smoldering coal from a heap of 
ashes. The beggar woman remains standing at the 
door and screens off all the light from outside. She 
knows that she is late and she is afraid of the cook. 
She gives a low sigh. 

Havah is fussing with the stove and suddenly she 
sniffs: she has smelled sour mold. She turns around. 
"So you've slept well!" she exclaims. "Thank God, 
here is another one! Who can take care of all of you? 
What is today, the eve of a new month, or what? All 
the poor people of the town have been here!" 

The beggar woman stands with an air of guilt, 
lowering her eyes. Havah's voice changes: "You 
couldn't come earlier? It's almost time to bless the 
candles now! Take this it'll get stale anyway before 
shalesh sudes." Havah grumbles on and sticks half a 
loaf of bread in the woman's bosom. 

"You know," I say to the pauper woman, as though 
it were a secret, "in front of our shop one of our boys 
distributes alms." 

She gives me a warm look she has surely been 
there already, for she comes every Friday and with 
out a word she quietly leaves the kitchen. 

Sasha seizes a pail of water, as if she had to wash 
the floor clean of the poor beggar woman's presence. 
First she runs to the dining room, throws off her bat 
tered slippers, and stands barefoot in the middle of 
the room. She looks this way and that, tucks up her 

[45] 



skirts, one after the other, hanging them up on her 
self as it were, swishes her wet rag, and runs all over 
the floor. Water drips from the pail, from the rag, 
wets Sasha's white feet. 

"Sasha, wait a minute!" I cry to her. "Why do you 
spout like a fountain? Ill climb on your back and so 
cross the river of water!" 

"Bashke, you crazy child, jump down, at once! 
You're dirtying my boards all over. Do you hear? If 
not, I'll give you such a smack on your behind! Oh, 
what are you doing! Don't tickle me that way! And 
you're scratching like a cat!" She suddenly straight 
ens her back and I slide down on the wet floor. 

"Aha, you've got your punishment? Better come 
help me push apart the table. You see! It's getting 
dark already*" 

We push apart the big dining table and put in the 
boairds. The table grows so long that no matter how 
much I stretch my arms I cannot reach the other end 
of it. A white, shining-white tablecloth gives a crackle 
and runs over the whole table. In a moment, the legs 
of the table vanish. The ends of the cloth fall down 
and hang in folds as in a festoon. Sasha runs after me. 

"Bashutke, where are you?" she calls. "Here, 
hang up the towels, each on its nail." 

"The napkins are still herewhat shall I do with 
them?"IasL 

"Put one on father's Sabbath bread." 

[46] 



I go to father's place and cover the Sabbath bread 
as one covers a bride with a veil. 

At the other end of the table mother's great five- 
branched silver candlestick is already in its place. 
Probably to make a lucky number, two single- 
branched candlesticks are added. In all the seven 
sockets long white candles are swaying. Beside moth 
er's candlestick my own little candlestick seems hardly 
able to stand on its short legs. Father gave it to me 
as a gift. Its scratched silver is carved like a transpar 
ent cobweb. The little socket has a shield piece under 
it, where later my candle will die drop by drop. 

The table, like a white dream palace, stands so calm, 
it might be awaiting something. Suddenly the fringes 
of the tablecloth begin to flutter. From somewhere a 
distant noise reaches me. I hear the shutters of the 
shop falling. The unrolling metal screeches. Thank 
God, the shop is being closed at last! I make out the 
voices of the employees, hastening home. "Go now, 
leave everything! You might miss your streetcar!" 
This is mother speeding the cashier, who lives at the 
edge of the town and is in the habit of lingering in the 
shop longer than anyone else. 

Now father comes in. I stand waiting for him as for 
a guest. "Bashke, don't you know where I can find a 
clean collar and a pair of cuffs?" he asks, 

"Here, father, they're on the dressing table." 

Father passes by the mirror, turns away his head; 
he has seen his face in the mirror. 

[47] 



"What a nuisance! Why are the buttonholes ironed 
in so tightly that there's no way of pushing a button 
through?" Father sweats and chokes in getting on his 
fresh collar. 

"Father, do you want me to ask Sasha for another 
collar?" 

"Who has time for that? We must soon go to 
shul." 

Sasha brings in the samovar, lights the lamp. The 
polished samovar boils and bubbles like a locomotive. 
The hanging lamp spatters fire. It is now warm and 
light all around. Father sits at the table quietly taking 
sweet tea with jam. 

The last to leave the shop is mother. She tries all 
the doors once more to see that they are locked. Now 
I hear her paltering steps. Now she shuts the metal 
door of the rear shop. Now her dress rustles. Now 
her soft shoes slip into the dining room. In the door 
way she halts for a moment: the white table with the 
silver candlesticks dazzles her eyes. At once she be 
gins to hurry. She quickly washes her face and hands, 
puts on a clean lace collar that she always wears on 
this night, and approaches the candlesticks like a quite 
new mother. With a match in her hand she lights one 
candle after another. All the seven candles begin to 
quiver. The flames blaze into mother's face. As 
though an enchantment were falling upon her, she 
lowers her eyes. Slowly, three times in succession, she 

[48] 



encircles the candles with both her arms; she seems to 
be taking them into her heart. And with the candles 
her weekday worries melt away. 

She blesses the candles. She whispers quiet benedic 
tions through her fingers and they add heat to the 
flames. Mother's hands over the candles shine like the 
tablets of the decalogue over the holy ark. 

I push closer to her. I want to get behind her bless 
ing hands myself. I seek her face. I want to look into 
her eyes. They are concealed behind her spread-out 
fingers. 

I light my little candle by mother's candle. Like 
her, I raise my hands and through them, as through a 
gate, I murmur into my little candle flame the words 
of benediction that I catch from my mother. 

My candle, just lighted, is already dripping. My 
hands circle it to stop its tears. 

I hear mother in her benedictions mention now one 
name, now another. She names father, the children, 
her own father and mother. Now my name too has 
fallen into the flame of the candles. My throat be 
comes hot. 

"May the Highest One give them his blessing!" 
concludes mother, dropping her hands at last. 

"Amen," I say in a choking voice, behind my fin 
gers. 

"Good shabbes!" mother calls out loudly. Her face, 
all opened, looks purified, I think that it has absorbed 
the illumination of the Sabbath candles. 

[49] 



"Good shabbes!" answers father from the other 
end of the table and rises to go to shul 

"Good shabbes!" cries the cook from the kitchen. 
Havah likewise has taken her two brass candlesticks 
from the shelf and has stuck a couple of short candles 
in them. The well-used table is covered with a small 
white tablecloth the toilworn kitchen is unrecog 
nizable. The white tablecloth and the two white can 
dles have given it rest. 

Every kitchen object is put away or hung up In its 
place. Even the stove has been sealed with a black 
sheet of metal. The front part of the stove is cleared 
of pots and pans. The walls are whiter, they have 
dried of their sweat. Every corner is swept clean, 
scrubbed. It is Sabbath. 

Havah sits at the table; she does not know what to 
do with her empty hands. She is suddenly seized with 
sadness. She feels like being alone, in order to be 
something of a mistress at least for a little while. 
"Sasha, go out for a moment," she says to the gentile 
maid, pointing with her eyes to the door. 

Havah, left alone, lights the candles. She has lived 
for many years with strangers, has grown up among 
them; she recalls that she too once had a father, a 
mother, her own home. 

"Baruch ha-Shem, blessed be thy Name. God did 
not want to bless me with my own household I must 
have sinned." She drops a tear. Her eyes seem to 

[50] 



merge with the candlelight, "But praise be to the 
Highest that I am living with respectable people, in a 
Jewish household. After all, we are Jews. Ah!" and 
she sighs "I had a prayer book somewhere. Where 
have I put it? Without a holy word, night and day 
with the shikse, I might become benighted." She finds 
her grease-stained prayer book, opens it, and blesses 
her candles aloud. 

Everyone has gone to shul. Mother and I are alone 
at home. The white table with the candles is illu 
mined for us alone. It seems to me that the sky too 
has been warmed by the candles and is peeping in at 
the window. Mother is sitting under the twinkling 
overhead lamp and is praying quietly. Her benedic 
tions are a murmur; occasionally a candle gives a 
sigh. My own little candle has almost completely 
burned down. I move closer to the wall and begin 
to say the Silent Prayer. 

The wall breathes, breathes as if it were alive. I 
want to grow into it. I am afraid to touch it, even 
with the prayer book in my hand. Now voices re 
sound in the entrance hall. There are my brothers, 
who have come back from shul. They are bustling at 
the door, outshouting one another. "Well, how did 
you like the cantor? He was in a hurryyou'd have 
thought the house was on fire!" 

"And have you at least said the whole of the Silent 
Prayer?" 

"I? I stood near Uncle Berel and he began to spit." 



"Ah, you're an uncouth fellow, Israel! Better help 
me to pull out my sleeve, the lining has suddenly got 
twisted up like a Turkish beigel." 

"Come, come, it's your brain that's twisted!" 

They throw their coats at each other. 

Mendel dreams, off at one side: "If I am called 
tomorrow to the scroll of the Law" 

"Then you'd shake like a broom," Abrashke fin 
ishes for him. 

"Sh-sh!" the rebbe hurls at them as he enters our 
apartment. "All you can do is make mock of every 
thing! At least say 'Good shabbes,' shkutsim!" 

The rebbe grumbles in a low tone, calmly; his 
weekday fever seems to be suspended in honor of the 
Sabbath. 

Why do they, my brothers, always come back 
from shul so excited? They have to be driven to go 
there "It's late, go to shul!" After they are back, 
they never stop laughing. They have enough stories 
for the whole week. What goes on there in shul? And 
what does father do there, staying such a long time? 
He always comes back last. Probably he is dis 
turbed by the men who pray in loud tones. And so 
father stands up to say the Silent Prayer when 
everyone else is preparing to go home. Even on Fri 
day nights he stays in shul for a long time. After 
everyone has left, it is quiet there only a couple of 
flies hum around the burning lamps. 



Father, alone in his place at the east wall, sways 
from side to side, like the tree in the yard of the shul, 
near the window. He prays in a low voice, with 
closed eyes; he appears detached from the world. His 
sentences are whispered, then they take wing around 
him. From a distance the shames watches him. The 
shames is a thin little man, thin against the thick books 
piled up on the little table near him. 

The shames himself has finished his prayers long 
before. He finishes first, in order that his betters need 
not wait for him. And so he sits silent as the wall and 
waits for father. When father rocks himself, the 
shames too rocks in his corner. When father utters a 
groan, the shames sighs too. When the shames hears 
father shuffling his feet, he gets up at once. When 
father moves away from the wall, the shames jumps 
up from his bench. "Good shabbes, good shabbes, 
Reb Shmul Noah!'' he exclaims, running toward 
him, pleased that father has finished the Silent Prayer 
and that he himself will be able to take rest for a 
while. 

"Good shabbes!" father answers, still dreamily, and 
spits out toward all three sides. The shames helps him 
to put on his coat. 

"Reb Shmul Noah," the shames says in a low voice, 
"in the courtyard there are still a couple of soldiers, 
sons of respectable Jews, among strangers!" 

"What are you saying?" Father comes to life. "Go 
quickly and tell them not to go away, let them come 

[53] 



with me. A Jewish child without the Sabbath supper! 
God forbid!" 

Father is embarrassed over getting home late. 

"Good shabbes!" he says, entering the room hur 
riedly, "Alta, I've brought some decent, respectable 
Jews. Ask them to supper." He calls to mother and 
points to the two soldiers, who have shyly remained 
standing in the doorway. 

My brothers fall silent and gaze at the guests. 
Abrashke cannot restrain himself and jumps toward 
them. The glittering military buttons dazzle his eyes* 
He cannot sit still, he must touch each thing sepa 
rately. 

"Let me put on your belt, will you? And where is 
your gun?" 

My brothers drag the soldiers to their end of the 
table. Father goes to wash his hands. Three times he 
pours water from the heavy copper jug on each hand 
separately, and slowly he wipes each finger. After 
him my brothers rush to the washstand. Each tries to 
wrest from the other the bit of water remaining in the 
jug after father has finished. They tear the towel 
from each other's hands. 

The chairs are pushed away, pushed back. Each 
stays in his place by some compulsion. 

"Sh-shah!" father cries out. "What's that quarrel 
ing on the Sabbath? You ought to be ashamed, before 
strangers! Well, enough kiddush!" He points to the 
goblet filled with wine. 

[54] 



Everyone rises. There is silence. The cook places 
herself in the doorway. Father waits awhile, as though 
gathering strength. The silver goblet, all engraved 
with black little flowers, sways like a full bucket in 
his hand. The wine spills over his fingers, spatters the 
white tablecloth. Father pushes the goblet more 
firmly Into his hand and now holds it with all five 
fingers. He sways once to one side, then to the other. 
He begins the klddush. With closed eyes father whis 
pers the benedictions; they might be coming out of 
the goblet. His wide forehead is wrinkled up. His 
voice changes to a tune that becomes infused with the 
wine. And like the tune the wine grows richer, more 
glowing. The tune rocks us too as we stand silently. 

"Amen!" Father raises the goblet to his mouth and, 
with his eyes still lowered, drinks off a little of the 
wine. 

"Amen!" all of us answer in one voice. 

"Amen!" echoes the cook from the door and rushes 
back to the kitchen. 

Mother silently swallows a few drops of wine and 
whispers: "We have lived to see the Sabbath, all of 
us are in good health. Thanks be to the Highest!" 

"Say a blessing, Bashinke!" She suddenly remem 
bers and gives me a sip from the goblet. 

The wine stings my mouth. 

I sit in my corner as usual between father and 
mother. Their breath blows into my face. Occasion 
ally father's beard strokes my shoulder. A drop of 

[5*] 



wine has remained hanging on his mustache, it is as 
though the kiddush cup with its wine had pressed the 
blood to his lips. 

"Do you want to say kiddush?" Father offers the 
cup to the elder soldier, and the drop of wine from 
his mustache falls on me. 

u No, thank you!" The shy guest blushes and clears 
his throat. 

"Well, now the blessing on the bread!" Father says 
the benediction over the loaves and cuts them into 
slices. 

A tableful of hands stretch out toward father. Then 
suddenly everyone's eyes are fixed on the maid enter 
ing the room. There is a whiff of onion and pepper. 

Sasha, her face flushed, because everyone is waiting 
for her, slowly carries to mother the platter of fish. 
Like a boat it sways in her hands. The pieces of fish 
are piled on so thickly that it is hard to turn them 
over. One portion jostles another, clings to the other. 
The pieces stand frozen in the pond of jellied sauce 
that moistens them underneath. 

"Mother, give me the round piece, the one near the 
edge there!" 

Mother pries up one piece of fish after another, 
places them on the plates. Her hand does not come to 
rest. The heads around the table bend over the plates. 
There is chewing, smacking. On some plates the fish 
bones begin to appear. And mother keeps on dealing 
out portions. Suddenly father wipes his mouth and 

[57] 



asks the soldiers: "Where are you from? Have you 
parents? What is their trade?" 

The soldiers raise their bent headsthey are busy 
picking the bones then look frightened as though 
they had been caught unawares. They stammer with 
their mouths full. 

My brothers begin: "Listen, what are you told to 
do in the barracks? Are your officers kind to you? 
Aren't you beaten? And where do you sleep? Can 
you hold a gun?" 

The two soldiers, being fired at from all sides, push 
away their plates. They do not know what to do, 
whom to answer first, whether or not to resume eat 
ing in order to avoid having the others wait for them. 

"Children, let the guests alone! Why do you set 
upon them like that? This way we won't get through 
supper before midnight!" 

A large bowl of soup is brought in. Steam mounts 
from it. It holds golden chicken soup; red veins of 
saffron swim in it, kernels of rice drift about in it, 
and two white boiled chickens lie there lifelike. 

"Mother, may I have the gizzard?" Abrashke jumps 
up first. 

Mother gives him a look: "Well, this one doesn't 
forget himself!" She turns to me. "Here, my child, 
take a leg. And here is some more tsimes. You like 
sweet tsimes, don't you?" 

Red, flaming little carrots smile at me from my 
plate. 

[58] 



"And who wants a wing?" 

The two wings stretch out from mother's hands a 
bird ready to fly away. Mother divides the chicken 
in pieces. One gets a neck, another a wing. She has 
hardly time to take her own portion. 

All of us are foundered. Our eyelids are sticking 
together. The tablecloth is full of stains. The feast 
dies out together with the candles. 

Saturday after dinner. Our house is asleep. Only 
Havah the cook is awake. All week long she waits for 
the Sabbath, and when it comes she thinks that it will 
not end, that she will have time to go over all her 
dresses, boast of the gifts she has received, change 
clothes, and go out for a walk, and walk without ceas 
ing. She opens her chest and vanishes in it. She airs 
out, fingers, rummages in the pile of clothes as in a 
pile of her years. 

"You see, I received this gift last Passover. The hat 
belonged to my former mistress, who" 

"You've dawdled enough! Everyone else has long 
been walking in the street!" The gentile maid makes 
fun of her. 

"Can I go out this way? What shall I wear?" 

All furbished up as for a wedding she has become 
three times as fat the cook can hardly stand on her 
legs. Her new shoes pinch. But she stands there, all 
billowed up, already feeling the eyes of the people in 
the street upon her. 

[59] 



"Tell me, Sasha, will anyone recognize that I'm a 
servant?" 

She brandishes the small tin mirror, touches herself 
all over. "Here, look-it's real silk!" 

She pulls up her dress, straightens her hat, which is 
all stuck over with flowers, and walks slowly across 
the threshold, as though beyond it she would instantly 
enter a new world. 

Now the whole street will stare at her. Everyone 
will turn around to have a look at her dress, her hat, 
and who knows perhaps this Sabbath she will finally 
meet the man destined to be her husband. She gives 
herself a shake as she stands and says to the gentile 
maid in the tone of a mistress: "Sasha, when the 
masters get up, serve them the jug of tea." 

A few hours later she returns from her walk, more 
tired than she would be from a whole week of work. 
The house is now full of people who have come for 
the third meal. They hum the Rabbi's Song. One ex 
plains to another: "What is the text? The rabbi has 
said-" 

It seems that they are having a dispute. When they 
are served cold fried fish, they cool off at once. 

Sunset is approaching. Father looks out of the win 
dow, finds the first little star that has risen in the blue 
sky with the new moon. He goes out. Big father 
grows quite little under the heavenly moonlight. I 
trail after him: "Father, will you light the havdalah?" 

We return to the house. I hold the wax candle. It is 

[60] 



twisted like a heavy chain, imbued with weekday 
sweat. Its flame is heavy and thick. Father snuffs out 
the candle in the wine splashes at the edge of the table. 

"Gutewoch!" 

"Gute wochmay you have a good week!" says 
mother pensively. Her face is already covered with 
weekday grayness. "May it really be a good week!" 



[62] 



THE MELAMMED 



THE old teacher who comes to give us lessons sidles 
through the yard like a shadow. My heart sinks 
at once. 

Small, short, he almost presses himself into the wall, 
as though he feared that he might touch someone. His 
worn-out coat, of a black-green color, hardly wraps 
around his narrow shoulders. His little plucked goatee 
droops down. 

"Well, Bashinke?" He squeezes out a smile. "Have 
you memorized the alphabet? Go call Abramele. 
Today we'll study well, won't we?" 

"Abrashke, Abrashke, the teacher has come!" I run 
into the apartment, calling. 

But my brother probably sighted the teacher be 
fore I did. He whispers to me from the little room 
into which he locks himself each time the lesson hour 
comes: "Go pour a glass of tea with jam in the mean 



time." 



"But you'll come, won't you?" I whisper through 
the crack in the door. "I can't stay alone with the 
teacher for the whole time." 



"Go, get away from here. I'll come right away. 
Tell him I have a tummy-ache." 

The teacher goes to the table. 

u Ugh!" he inhales, sighs, blows his nose, wipes his 
spectacles, and takes snuff. Perked up, he opens the 
book that he always carries with him. 

"Well, where are you, children?" He turns his 
head but does not remove his finger from the line. 

"Here I am, teacher! Here is a glass of tea. Do you 
want it, teacher?" I put a glass of hot tea with jam 
near the book. 

The vapor of the tea clouds his spectacles. The 
sweet fragrance of cherry juice titillates his nose. 

The teacher sips a few drops, warms up. He does 
not put the glass back until he has finished drinking 
the tea. 

"Teacher, do you want another glass?" I do not 
wait for an answer and run away with the glass in my 
hand. 

"Where is Abramele? Is he at home?" And the 
teacher begs me not to bring him any more tea. 

"Yes, teacher, I am going to call him. He said he'd 
come right away." 

"Abrashke!" I knock at his door. "The teacher is 
waiting for you. Come out!" 

"Have you given him tea? And jam?" 

"Of course a couple of glasses, even. He is already 
sick from the jam. I'm scared. Come out, at least 
fora minute!" 



"Is it my fault? I can't come out. Now I've really 
got a tummy-ache." 

I know that Abrashke is lying. Nothing is wrong 
with him. He only wants to dawdle there through the 
lesson time. 

I return to the teacher. He sits embarrassed by his 
empty glass. 

"Teacher, perhaps you'd like another glass of tea? 
I've just had new hot coals added under the samovar," 
And before he can collect himself, I snatch the glass 
from his hand, 

I am ashamed to put it on the table. I am ashamed 
to look the teacher in the eye. The steam of the hot 
tea blows straight up into his face. His eyes begin to 
blink. 

Suddenly I am overcome by fear that the old man 
will faint on the spot from the heat. Even now he sits 
as though he had no strength, his eyes closed, his head 
drooping. 

I look at the teacher, and do not recognize him he 
has suddenly become very old. 

Of his whole body hidden behind the table, only 
his little head with the goatee can be seen. But now I 
notice that his face is tired out, that his neck is thin. 
He is yellow, from the yellow page in the book that 
has remained lying open on the table. His mustache 
and the tips of his fingers are yellow, too, worn from 
pinching snuff , 

[66] 



Is he really so old? Does his coat too smell of old- 
ness? 

"Perhaps," I think to myself, "the teacher won't be 
able to get home by himself. Perhaps we should ask 
his relatives to come for him. Does anyone know 
where the teacher lives? Has he children? Are they 
as bad as we are? He has no one." And my heart 
begins to pound the teacher is alone in the world, 
like a stone. 

I am glad that the old man is asleep, that he does 
not see how I have become red in the face. I fancy 
that he has sunk into sleep not because of all the 
glasses of sweetened tea, but from grief because we do 
not want to study with him. He is such a quiet man, 
he wants to teach us at least the alphabet, bring us, as 
he says, to a page of the Bible. 

Then why is he afraid to be firm with us? It would 
be better if he shouted at us! After all, we are not 
the parents his employers, as he says. 

We are wicked! Only when the teacher is asleep 
do we pity him! 

I feel like saying to him that beginning today (I 
can swear it by anything) I will study well, that I will 
no longer bring him so many glasses of tea. I am afraid. 
My whispering is too noisyI might waken the teacher 
from his sleep. So I remain sitting quietly in my place. 

"Oh!" I remind myself. "Abrashke might just at 
this moment jump out of his little room and waken 
the teacher! Let the old man at least take a good nap 



in our house! He probably studies the Torah at night 
and does not sleep enough," 

Suddenly through the open window I catch the 
smell of sweet chocolate boiling. The odor Is so 
strong that I glance at the teacher to see whether It 
has not wakened him. The aroma is like a sweet cloud 
around my head. It pricks my tongue, tickles my 
nose. I am getting drunk. 

I am annoyed to think that I am not in the court 
yard just now. I know that the chocolate is boiling in 
the kitchen of the confectionery, the Jean Albert, 
which is situated under our own kitchen. They use 
the chocolate for icing the cakes they bake. 

If I could only show myself now, the bakers would 
be calling me over to them. They would be giving 
me the big wooden ladle with which they stir the 
chocolate, to let me lick it. The old baker of whom I 
am so afraid outside in the courtyard is sweeter when 
he is inside his warm kitchen than the cakes that he 
shapes so skillfully. He smiles with those black teeth 
of his that are worn out from eating sugar. His white 
apron is stained, smeared with all the creams with 
which he covers the cakes. 

I see the baker raising to his mouth a twisted, long 
horn. From the horn a colored dense cream blows 
out, and on the cake waiting under it a red flower 
is turned out here, a green leaf there. 

The baker puffs on another horn, and a little angel 
with wings jumps onto the very top of the cake. He 

[68] 



takes a wooden spatula in his hand and smooths out 
the little angel, smooths the cake on all sides. Sweet 
crumbs drop from it. 

The baker knows that I look upon him as a magi 
cian. 

"Beautiful, isn't it?" He smiles. "Do you want the 
scraps?" 

I am waiting for the scraps. He crams fistfnls of 
sweet crumbs into my hands. 

I open my hand there is nothing in it. I look about 
the teacher is asleep. 

Ah, when will he finish sleeping? This way I'll 
miss the sweet crumbs. It will be late, and I won't 
be able to go to the confectioner's dark kitchen. 

Shall I run out for a while? And what if the teacher 
should suddenly wake up? 

"Sh-sh-sh!" I hear a swish suddenly, like the whis 
tling of a wind. What is that? Is it not just the teacher 
whistling through his nose? I look out of the window. 
I almost fall flat. From above, from the photogra 
pher's apartment, there is a downpour of many little 
white leaves. 

Crumpled, they fly, turn over, fall down to the 
stairs, over the courtyard; they might be white little 
doves fluttering down there. I stretch out my hands, 
trying to snatch at one of the little pieces of paper. 
I know that they are pictures that the photographer 
is throwing out. Yellow, pale, speckled in some the 
eye is pierced, in others the cheeks are broken; one 



can hardly make out a whole person on any of them. 

There sits a girl with goggling eyes, as though she 
were choking In the high collar that peaks up Into her 
ears. There stands a soldier with long mustaches, with 
frightened eyes he may be seeing a general from afar 
off, scolding him. 

A little cardboard falls into my hand. I look at it. 
Thank God IVe caught it! 

It has a naked baby lying on a piece of sheet. Al 
though the baby is as plump as a piglet, it would have 
broken its little head if it had fallen on the ground. 

"Play with me! Smile at me!" I fancy that the 
baby begins to smile. 

And now a picture crammed with people falls into 
my hand. How could the photographer have the 
heart to throw them out all together? 

A whole family In a single picturea grandfather 
and a grandmother, and another grandmother, an 
uncle and an aunt, a father and mother, sons and 
daughters, married folk and little girls, tiny children. 
There were not enough chairs to seat them all. So 
those who are standing up behind are angry. Children 
are sitting on the floor. 

Once I looked and looked at such groups and could 
not restrain myself. I went to ask mother why we too 
should not have our pictures taken all together. 

"After all, the photographer is living in our house," 
I said. "And we could see ourselves on the display 
panel that hangs across from our shop." 

[70] 



Mother gave me a look, "Are you crazy," she ex 
claimed, "out of your mind? Have you nothing else 
to think about? Out of a blue sky, we are to have our 
pictures taken, like the shikses with their soldier boys?" 

Why does mother shout like that? Wasn't grand 
father photographed once? True, he had to be hood 
winked: he was told, while he was standing quietly 
behind the counter, that he must not move from the 
spot, that the shop was being measured. Why then 
shouldn't the photographer in our house be asked to 
measure our shop, and while this is being done take a 
picture of all of us? 

"Bashke!" Finally Abrashke runs out of his little 
room with a shout. "Has the teacher gone?" 

"S-sss!" And I make signs to him with my hands, 
in fright. "Stop yelling-the teacher is asleep!" 

But Abrashke's cry has wakened the teacher. 
Thank God, after his nap he seems fresher. 

He collects himself at once, notices us, and turns 
to his book, as though he had not slept at all. 

"Well, children, where are we? Repeat after me 
aleph, beth." 

"Aleph, beth, gimel, daleth," I say loudly, happy 
that the teacher finds nothing to reproach us about. 

"Heh, vav!" Abrashke tries to outshout me. 

For the first time we recite the alphabet from be 
ginning to end. 

The old man smiles with pleasure. "Aren't you 



tired, children?" he asks. "You've studied well today, 
eh? Perhaps it's enough for today? Eh?" 

The teacher puts on his worn coat and quietly goes 
out of the room. 



ROSH HA-SHANAH 



THE Fearful Days have come, and our whole house 
is in an uproar. Each holiday brings with it its 
own savor, each is steeped in its own atmosphere. 
A clear, joyful, purified air, as after a rain this 
is the air of Rosh ha-Shanah. 

After the black nights of the Selichot prayers a 
bright, sunny day dawns for the New Year. The 
week of Selichot is the most restless week. Father 
wakes up in the middle of the night, rouses my broth 
ers, and all of them dress quietly and go off like 
thieves slinking through the door. 

What are they looking for in the cold, in the dark 
streets? It is so warm in bed! And what if they don't 
come back at all how mother and I would weep and 
weep! I am almost beginning to cry even now, and I 
wrap myself closer in my blankets. 

In the morning when father drinks his tea his face 
is pale and fagged. But the bustle of the holiday eve dis 
pels everyone's weariness. 

The shop is closed at an early hour. Everybody 
makes ready to go to shul. There are more prepara- 

[73] 



tlons than ever before, as if it were the first time they 
were going there. Each one puts on something new- 
one a fresh, light-colored hat, another a new necktie, 
still another a new garment. 

Mother dons a white silken blouse; she seems re 
furbished, she has a new soul, and she is eager to go 
to shul. 

One of my elder brothers opens the thick prayer 
book for her and creases down the pages from which 
she must pray. They are marked with notations made 
by grandfather's hand many years ago: "Say this." 

Mother recognizes the lines over which she wept 
last year. A trembling comes over her and her eyes 
dim with tears. She is in a hurry to go to shul to weep 
over the words, as if she were reading them for the 
first time. 

A stack of books has been prepared for her. She 
wraps them in a large kerchief and takes them all with 
her. Must she not pray for a good year for the whole 
family? 

As for father's books and talis, the shames came to 
fetch them to the shul during the day. 

I remain behind, alone. The house is empty, and I 
too feel emptied. The old year, like a thing for 
lorn, drags itself away somewhere outside. The com 
ing year must be a clear one, a bright one. I want to 
sleep through the night as quickly as possible. 

On the following day in the morning I too go to 
shul. I too wear new garments from tip to toe. The 

[74] 




sun is shining, the air is clear and alive. My new shoes 
give a dry tap. I walk faster. The New Year must be 
already arrived in shul. The shofar must be sounding 
there; even now it echoes in my ears. I fancy that the 
sky itself has come down lower and hurries to shul 
together with me. I run to the women's section, I push 
open the door. A whiff of heat comes from in there, 
as from an oven. The heavy air stifles my breath. The 
shul is packed full. The high lecterns are piled with 
books. Old women sit bent, sunk in their chairs. Girls 
stand almost on the heads of the grandmothers. Chil 
dren tumble underfoot. 

[75] 



I want to elbow my way to mother. But she Is sit 
ting so far off, all the way up at the front, next to the 
window that opens into the men's section. As soon as 
I try to move, a woman turns around to me, a weep 
ing face gives me an angry look. 

"Oh! Oh!" She breathes wrath at me. 

I am pushed from behind; I am suddenly freed, and 
thrown to the handrail. 

My mother signals to me with her eyes. She is glad 
that I am near her. But where is the shof ar? Where is 
the New Year? 

I look at the walls of the men's section. The ark of 
the Torah is closed, its curtain drawn. Silently and 
calmly the two embroidered lions guard it. The con 
gregation is in a tumult, as though busy with some 
thing else. Have I come too early or too late? 

Suddenly from under a talis a hand holding a shof ar 
stretches out and remains suspended in the air. The 
shofar blares out; everyone is awakened. They are all 
very still. They wait. The shofar gives another blast. 
The sound is chopped off , as though the horn were out 
of breath. 

People exchange glances. The shofar trumpets 
hoarsely. A murmur ripples through the shul. 

What manner of shofar blowing is that? He lacks 
strength. Perhaps another man should be called up. 

And then suddenly, as though the trumpet blower 
had pushed out the evil spirit that was clogging the 
shofar, there comes a pure, long sound. Like a sum- 



mons it runs through the whole shul, sounding into 
every corner. The congregation is relieved: one gives 
a sigh, another nods his head. The sound rises upward. 
The walls are touched by it. It reaches me and my 
handrail. It throbs up to the ceiling, pushes the thick 
air, fills every empty space. It booms into my ears, my 
mouth, I even feel an ache in my stomach. When will 
the shofar finish trumpeting? What does the New 
Year want of us? 

I recall all my sins. God knows what will happen to 
me: so much has accumulated during the year! 

\ can hardly wait for afternoon. I am eager to go 
with mother to the rite of tashlich, to shake off all my 
sins, cast them into our big river. Other women and 
men are on their way. All of them walk down the 
little street that leads to the river bank. All of them 
are dressed in black; they might be going, God for 
bid, to a funeral. The air is sharp. From the high river 
bank, from the big city park, a wind is blowing; leaves 
are falling, yellow, red-yellow, like butterflies; they 
whirl in the air, turn over, scatter on the ground. Do 
our sins fly in the same way? The leaves rustle, stick 
to my shoes. I drag them along. Having them, it is 
less fearsome to go through the tashlich. 

"Why do you stop all the time?" Mother pulls me 
by the hand. "Let the leaves alone!" 

Soon everyone stops. The street seems suddenly to 
end; the deep, cool waters seem to be flowing up to 
our feet. 

[77] 



On the river bank dark clusters of people have 
gathered. The men, with their heads thrust out and 
their beards swaying, bend down to the water, as 
though they wanted to see the very bottom. Suddenly 
they turn their pockets inside out; little crumbs, 
scraps, detach themselves from the linings. The men 
recite a prayer aloud and throw their crumbs, to 
gether with the sins, into the water. But how shall I 
shake off my sins? I have no crumbs in my pockets 
I do not even have pockets. 

I stand next to mother, shivering from the cold 
wind that lifts our skirts. Mother tells me the ritual 
words that I have to say, and the prayers together with 
the sins fall from my mouth straight into the water. I 
fancy that the river is swollen with all our sins, and it 
rolls along with its waters suddenly turned black. 

My burden eased away, I return home. Mother at 
once sits down to read psalms. She wants still to make 
use of the day to obtain something more from God. 
A humming fills the dark room. The air becomes 
clouded, like mother's spectacles. Mother is weeping, 
silently shaking her head. 

What shall I do? 

I fancy that from the closely printed lines of the 
psalms our grandfathers and grandmothers come 
gently out to us. Their shadows sway, they draw 
themselves out like threads, encircle me. I am afraid 
to turn around. Perhaps someone is standing at my 
back and wants to seize me in his arms? 




"Mother!" I cannot contain myself, I shake her by 
the sleeve. 

She raises her head, blows her nose, and ceases 
weeping. She kisses the psalter and closes it. 

"Rashke," she says, "I'm going to shul. We'll be 
back soon, all of us. Will you set the table, my child?" 

"Mother, is it for the shehecheyanu?" 

As she goes out I open the cupboards, I drag out 
the tall paper bags filled with fruit and spread all of it 

[79] 



out on the table. As in a great garden, thick green 
melons roll on the table. Beside them lie clusters of 
grapes, white and red. Big, juicy pears have turned 
over on their little heads. There are sweet yellow 
apples that have a golden gleam they look as if they 
had been dipped in honey. Plums, dark red, scatter 
all over the table. 

Over what shall we offer the benediction of first 
fruits? Haven't we eaten of all these things all year 
long? 

I notice that from another bag there protrudes, like 
a fir tree, a pineapple, a new, unfamiliar fruit. 

"Sasha, do you know where pineapples grow?" 

"Who knows?" She spreads her hands. "I've got 
other things to think about!" 

No one knows whence the pineapple comes. With 
its scaly skin it looks like a strange fish. But its tail 
stands up at the top like an opened fan. I touch its 
stuffed belly, and it trembles from top to bottom. It 
is not a casual matter to touch the pineapple; it be 
haves somewhat like an emperor. I reserve the center 
of the table for it. 

Sasha slices it pitilessly. The pineapple groans 
under her sharp knife like a live fish. Its juice, like 
white blood, trickles onto my fingers. I lick them. It 
is a tart-sweet taste. 

Is this the taste of the New Year? 

"Dear God," I whisper hurriedly, "before they all 
come back from shul, give a thought to us! Father 

[so] 



and mother pray Thee all day long in shul to grant 
them a good year. And father always thinks of Thee. 
And mother remembers thy Name at every step! 
Thou knowest how toilworn they are, how care- 
ridden. Dear God, Thou canst do everything! Make 
it so that we have a sweet, good year!" 

I quickly sprinkle powdered sugar on the pine 
apple. 

"Gut yom-tov! Gut yom-tov!" My brothers run 
in, trying to outshout one another. 

They are followed immediately by father and 
mother, who look pale and tired. 

"May you be inscribed for a happy year!" 

My heart leaps up. I imagine that God himself is 
speaking through their mouths. 



[81] 



DAY OF ATONEMENT 



A QUITE different air, heavy and thick, pervades 
the night of Yom Kippur. 

All the shops are long closed. Their black shutters 
are locked as though forever. The sky too is black, as 
if God himselfheaven forbidhad deserted it. It is 
terrifying to walk in the streets. Perhaps God metes 
out punishment instantly, and one will sprain an ankle. 
I shudder at hearing laughter somewhere in the dis 
tance. The goyim are not afraid at all They laugh 
even on the Day of Atonement. 

My head is still throbbing with the clamor that 
came from father's white kapporeh rooster. 

A black-garbed, scrawny-looking shochet slunk 
into our courtyard late in the evening. From the 
folds of his coat a long knife flashed. He chased fa 
ther's cock; the cock shrieked, shaking the courtyard 
with his din. Other cocks ran after him with excited 
cries. 

The cook seized a cock by the leg, but the cock 
wrenched himself free. The courtyard was littered 
with feathers. 

[82] 



It sounded like a thousand gongs clanging for a 
fire: the courtyard re-echoed with the crowing of the 
cocks, with their embattled uproar. But gradually they 
spent their strength. The yard grew quieter and 
quieter. 

Mother's and my own white chicken hid in a hole 
in their fear. One could only hear them clucking low 
and crying. 

The cook caught both chickens at the same time 
and put them at the shochet's feet. Blood poured over 
the whole balcony. When I came to myself, all the 
cocks and hens lay on the ground. From their necks 
ran threads of blood. Blood had spattered their white 
feathers. They were left to cool off in the dark night. 

I remember how my little chicken quivered in my 
hands when I held it upraised for the rite. I too was 
quivering. My finger recoiled at once when I touched 
the chicken's warm belly. The chicken uttered a 
shriek, and tried to fly over my head, like a little 
white angel. 

I raised my eyes from the prayer book, I wanted to 
look at the chicken. It cried and clucked as though 
begging for mercy of me. I did not hear the passages 
that I was to repeat. And I was suddenly seized 
by fear that the chicken, as I held it up high, might 
befoul my head. 

Mother is calling me. From a distance I see her eyes 
gleaming, her hands moving quietly as though pre- 



paring to embrace someone. She tells me to hold the 
skeins of thread before the large wax candles that will 
burn in the shul at the cantor's reading stand. She 
pulls out the first thread. 

"For my beloved husband, for Shmul Noah may 
he be healthy and live to his hundred-and-twentieth 
year." She draws out the thread, slowly weaves a 
benediction into it, sprinkles it with her tears, and 
passes a big piece of wax over it, as though trying to 
rub it full of good wishes. 

"Hold fast to the end of the thread, Bashke," 
mother says to me. 

"For my dear son, for Itchke may he be healthy 
and live in happiness and joy till his hundred-and- 
twentieth year!" She draws out the second thread and 
rubs it too with wax. 

"For my oldest daughter, for Hannah." 

Names are slowly intoned, threads are drawn, now 
yellow with wax and tears. I can hardly hold all the 
ends that remain free of wax. They slip from the tips 
of my fingers. I hold them with all my strength. 

Mother prays a long time for each child, each rela 
tive. I no longer know what she is saying. With every 
name a tear drops on the thread and at once is im 
bedded in the wax like a little pearl. One heavy can 
dle is now ready. Mother tackles the others. 

"May all of us live long. For my deceased father, 
Baruch Aaron Raishkes may he rest forever in para 
dise. My father, pray well for us, for me and my hus- 



band and my little children. Entreat from God good 
health and good fortune for all of us." Now mother 
weeps aloud. She almost cannot see the threads shak 
ing in her hands. 

"May all of us live long. For my deceased mother, 
Aige may she pray well for us. My mother, do not 
forsake your only daughter, Alta," mother prays over 
the thread she has drawn out. Apparently she would 
like to linger with her mother as long as possible; she 
moves the wax slowly and does not let the thread go 
from her hands. 

"May all of us live long. For my deceased little son, 
Benjamin." Mother begins to weep again. 

At this point I can check myself no longer. I weep 
too over my little brother who was one year old when 
he died and whom I never saw. 

Mother glances at me through her tears, catches her 
breath, and blows her nose. The skein of threads 
grows thicker and thicker. Dead relatives, members of 
closely and distantly connected families, come as on a 
visit to us. For each one mother sheds a tear; it is like 
sending a greeting to every one of them. I no longer 
hear their names; I might be walking around an un 
familiar graveyard. I see only stones, I see only threads. 
I am even filled with fear at the thought of how many 
dead relatives have been drawn forth and entwined 
among mother's threads. Will we, the living, burn in 
the same way, like the souls of the dead? 

I am glad when at last the shames, who is waiting 
[86] 



for the candles, carries them to the shul. Exhausted, I 
go to bed. 

Next day we are prompted from early morning on. 
We are given a special snack, in order to fortify us 
before the fast, and to give us opportunity to say an 
other prayer. We are trying to do good deeds. My 
brothers apologize to one another. 

"Abrashke, you're not angry with me?" I rush to 
my brother I recall that I have not always done 
things he wanted me to do. 

Mother goes down to the courtyard. There is a 
neighbor with whom she has quarreled. She begs 
him earnestly to forgive her. 

My brothers change clothes, make ready to go to 
shul. They almost do not speak. They do not even 
jostle one another. They seem to have been seized 
with awe. 

They wait at some distance while mother slowly 
blesses her candles. Then they come first to father, 
next to mother, wishing them both a good year. My 
parents place their hands on each of them and speak 
a blessing upon each head. Even the grown sons and 
daughters look like little children under the outspread 
hands of their parents. I, the youngest, go to them 
last. Father, with lowered eyes, touches my head, and 
I immediately choke with the tears that mount to 
my eyes. I can hardly hear the benedictions that he 
pronounces over me. His voice is already hoarse. 



I fancy that I am already burning on the big 
twisted candle that mother has prepared. Sanctified, 
I leave the circle of its light to me it is like 
white, warm hands shining behind the benedictions 
and tears and stand under my mother's shaking hands. 

When I am near her, I quiet down a little. I feel 
more at ease when I see her tears. I hear her simple, 
heartfelt prayers. I do not want at all to come out 
from under her hands. And actually I begin to feel 
cold as soon as the murmur of the benedictions ceases 
over my head. 

Everyone is in haste to go to shuL 

"Gut yom-tov!" Father quietly approaches mother 
and shakes hands with her. 

"Gut yom-tov! " mother answers with lowered eyes. 

I remain alone at home. The candles burn on, holy 
and warm. I take my place at the wall to say the 
Silent Prayer at once. 

The benedictions that father has spoken over my 
head still sound in my ears. I beat my chest while re 
citing the confession of sins. I am afraid, for I proba 
bly have committed more sins than are enumerated in 
the prayer book. 

My head grows hot. The letters of the sacred 
writing begin to spread in height and width. Jerusalem 
sways before my eyes. I should like to hold up the holy 
city with the thick prayer book that I clutch tightly 
with both hands. 

[88] 



Alone I cry to God and do not leave the wall until 
I can no longer think of anything to pray for. 

The children now return from shuL The house is 
deserted, the table empty. Only the white tablecloth 
gleams dimly under the stumps of the half -burnt can 
dles. They smoke. We do not know what to do with 
ourselves. So we go to sleep. 

Next morning when I wake up, everyone has long 
since gone to shul. Again I am alone in the house. I 
remember everything that I am supposed to do. I only 
pour water over my fingers, I do not even brush my 
teeth, and with parched mouth I begin to pray. Gen 
tile schoolmates come in; they want to do their home 
work with me. I do not move from the spot until I 
have finished praying. 

I run to see my grandfather. He is old and sick and 
he too has remained alone at home. The Rabbi of 
Bobruisk (grandfather is a follower of his) has or 
dered grandfather not to fast. He must take a spoon 
ful of milk every hour. So I go to my grandfather 
to give him his milk. 

Grandfather is praying. He does not even glance at 
me and bursts into soft weeping. The spoon with the 
milk shakes in my hand, my fingers are splashed. 
Grandfather's tears drop into the spoon, mingle with 
the milk. He barely wets his pale lips and weeps more 
copiously under my tending. Heavy-hearted, I return 
home. 



"Bashutke, come and have a bite!" Our Sasha begs 
me to come to the kitchen and eat a piece of cold 
chicken with her. "You must surely be starved!" 

I am angry at myself because I am not yet fasting 
through the whole day. Every year I beg mother to 
permit me to fast. I cannot eat after witnessing grand 
father's tears, and after seeing father come home with 
his pale, drawn face. He comes from shui to rest a 
little. With his white lips, his white kittel, and his 
white socks he looks God forbid as though he were 
not alive at all. I fancy that his soul has already be 
come very pure and that it shines through his white 
garments. I begin to pray more fervently. I want to 
be at least in some small measure as pious as father. 

Mother stays at the shul through the whole day. 
Before the Musaf I go to see her to ask how she is. 
The cantor can no longer be heard. The men's section 
is half empty. Some have gone home to rest, others sit 
on the benches, their eyes on their prayer books. Boys 
play in the shul courtyard; some have apples to eat, 
some have pieces of challa with honey. But the 
women's section is full of stifled weeping. In every 
corner a woman sighs and laments. 

"Lord of the Universe, Lord of the Universe!" 
The chant resounds on all sides. 

Mother is weeping quietly. She can scarcely any 
longer see the little letters of her prayer book through 
her clouded spectacles. 

I stand at some distance and wait. Mother catches 

[90] 



her breath, raises her weeping face, and nods to me to 
tell me that she is feeling well, although she resumes 
her weeping at once. I come closer to her. I do not 
know what to do among all these weeping mothers. I 
look down into the men's section. The cantor's white 
kittel and white skullcap are still. I look among the 
rows of tall candles for our two. They are burning 
among all the other candles, burning high into the air 
at either side of the holy ark. 

Suddenly a humming and a clamor rise over the 
shul. It becomes full of men. There is a bustle, the air 
grows hot. Men throng around the cantor. The heavy 
curtain of the holy ark is drawn aside. Now there is 
silence, the air has become motionless. Only the rustle 
of prayer shawls can be heard. The men hurry toward 
the holy ark. The shining scrolls of the Torah, like 
princesses awakened from sleep, are carried out from 
the ark. On their white and dark red velvet mantles 
great stars gleam shields of David embroidered in 
silver and gold. The handles are mounted with silver, 
encrusted with mother-of-pearl, and crowns and little 
bells hang from them. 

Light glows around the scrolls of the Torah. All the 
men in the shul are drawn toward them. The scrolls 
are surrounded, escorted. The men crowd after the 
scrolls of the Torah, trying at least to catch a glimpse 
of them, send a kiss to them from a distance. And 



they, the beautiful scrolls of the Torah, tower high 
above the heads of the worshipers, above all the out 
stretched hands, and move slowly through the shul. 

I can hardly keep myself behind the handrail of the 
women's section. I should like so much to jump down, 
to fall straight into the embrace of the holy Torahs, 
or at least move closer to them, to their quivering 
light, at least touch them, kiss their bright glory. But 
the scrolls are already being carried back, back to the 
holy ark. From both sides of it the tall candles twin 
kle at them. The velvet curtain is drawn, darkness 
comes to my eyes. 

As though to drown the sadness, the men begin at 
once to pray aloud. 

I remain standing at the window. I am attracted by 
the men's section, its clamorous air, filled with white 
talesim, like upraised wings surging through the shul, 
covering every dark spot. Only here and there a nose 
or an eye peeps out. The talis stripes sway like stairs 
above the covered heads. 

One talis billows up, emits a groan, and smothers 
the sound within itself. The shul grows dark. I am 
seized by fear. The talesim bend, shake, move up 
ward, turn to all sides. Talesim sigh, pray, moan. 
Suddenly my legs give way. Talesim quiver, drop to 
the ground like heavy sacks. Here and there a white 
woolen sock sticks out. Voices erupt as from under 
ground. Talesim begin to roll, as on a ship that is sink 
ing and going down amid the heaving waves, 



m 




I do not hear the cantor at all. Hoarse voices out- 
shout one another. They pray, they implore, asking 
that the ceiling open for them. Hands stretch upward. 
The cries set the lamps shaking. At any moment now 
the walls will crumble and let Elijah the Prophet 
fly in. 

Grown-up men are crying like children. I cannot 
stand it any longer. I myself am crying more and 
more. I recover only when I perceive at last a living, 
weeping eye behind a crouching talis, when I hear 
trembling voices saying to one another: "Gut yoin- 
tov! Gutyom-tov!" 

I run home, for soon everyone will be back from 
shul, and I must set the table. "Sasha, hurry, hurry, 
prepare the samovar!" I cry to the maid. 

I drag the tin box of pastry from the cupboard. I 
empty it all out on the table cakes, cookies, ginger 
bread, wafers, all sorts of buns. There is no room left 
even for a glass of tea. 

Sasha lights the lamp and carries in the cheerfully 
humming samovar. Even the samovar seems glad that 
it has survived, that it has been remembered. Now the 
voices of my brothers can be heard. They rush in 
like hungry animals, one after the other. 

Mother, looking worn, enters with a soft smile on 
her face and says to everyone: "Gut yom-tov!" 

"Gut yom-tov!" says the cook. She runs in from 
the kitchen and smiles a pale smile. 

We are waiting for father. As always, he is the last 

[94] 



to come from shul. In high spirits we fall upon the 
food. Glasses of tea are poured and drunk. 

We have saved ourselves. We are no longer hungry. 
May God give his seal upon a good year for all of us. 

So be it, amen! 




SUKKOT 



THE day after Yom Kippur we wait for a messen 
ger from God. Surely he must come after our 
prayers and tears of yesterday! 

And then a peasant with a cartful of branches of 
red fir drives into the courtyard. He overturns his 
cart. Prickly branches fall down, heaped one upon 
the other. 

The courtyard turns into a forest. There is a smell 
of tar, of pine. The branches are fresh as just after a 
rain. Like huge birds at rest the branches lie, and a 
fragrance comes from them like a song. 

If one crawls up on the mountain of branches, it 
utters a groan and bends underfoot. If one rolls on it, 
the mountain collapses entirely. 

"Why are you trampling the branches?" My 
brothers come running with outcries. "Do you think 
it's hay? Don't you know it's for the sukkah?" 

They pull the branches from under my feet. Each 
branch comes up heavily from the ground, shakes 
itself free with its spikes. 

I help to carry the branches into the sukkah, which 

[96] 




is not yet ready. Only the walls, made of long boards, 
have been set up and nailed. The roof is open. The 
sky looks in. My brothers climb up the ladders, stand 
on chairs, and hand the branches to one another, 
shaking them as one shakes the Sukkot palm branch. 
The branches open up like fans. Soon the sukkah is 
covered as a head is covered with a cap. It stands in 

[97] 



the middle of the courtyard, alluring and beckoning, 
like a little house in the woods. 

The branches are piled up on it so thickly that no 
little star from heaven will shine through the dark 
green. Inside the sukkah it is cool and dim. Only 
through the holes in the walls little patches of light 
creep through. And the points of light gleam and 
quiver, trying hard to slip in. 

In the middle of the sukkah a long table and 
benches have been set up. There is no floor. Bare 
ground is underfoot. The legs of the table and of the 
benches rest in the damp earth, which sticks to one's 
feet. 

We do not go out of the sukkah. We imagine that 
we are in a country house. We stretch out on the 
benches, pursue and intercept the patches of light 
that shine through the walls, and with our heads high 
in the air we gaze at the roof of branches as though 
it were a sky with stars. We shiver when a drop of 
dew falls on us. 

We intone a song, by way of announcing to every 
one that the sukkah is ready, that the holiday has 
come. 

People look out of the windows of our apartment. 
"Look," they say, "the sukkah is ready!" 

Suddenly someone calls out: "Children, the shames 
has brought the palm branch from the shul!" 

We rush into the house. It too has become differ 
ent. There is a smell of osier. Little leaves litter the 

[98] 



floor and their fragrance fills the whole apartment, 
And where is the palm branch? 

There it stands by a corner window. It stands so 
wretchedly, leaning on the pane. Its head is bent to 
one side; perhaps it is trying to see through the glass 
whether a bit of the sky of its native land is shining 
there. Its long, narrow leaves are pressed together. I 
go to the palm branch. I am afraid to touch it. Its 
edges are sharp, like the edge of a sword. 

"Let me shake the palm branch!" I beg my 
brothers. 

"Before father?" 

"I just want to see whether It is a live one." 

The palm branch shakes in my hands; I shake with 
it. It makes a little wind around itself. I fancy that I 
am in the Land of Israel, under a shady palm tree. 

How has the palm branch got here? 

"Abrashke, what do you think?" I ask my brother 
insistently. "Has the palm branch come directly here 
from Palestine? What do you think it was there a 
tree, or a branch broken off the tree? Who brought it 
here?" 

"What is today Passover, and you think you've 
got to ask questions?" 

My brother does not know the answer himself, and 
he is trying to wriggle out of it. 

"Listen," he says, "I think the palm branch has torn 
itself out of the earth. It wanted to have a look at 



what is going on in the world. So it ran away from 
home, and in one night" he lowers his voice as 
though he himself were frightened a in one night it 
grew up here, by our window." 

I want to believe him, but I don't want him to be 
always right, 

"But it's just been brought from the shul!" I re 
mind him. 

"And what would you say if you knew that the 
palm branch was wrapped in straw and packed in a 
big wooden chest? I've seen merchandise that is trans 
ported that way by train." 

"Ah, do you think that the palm branch would 
travel like that with all the unclean goods? The 
rebbe would slap you if he could hear how you're 
talking about the palm branch. And look, why is it 
so fresh and green? It would have been smothered in 
a chest." 

I touch the palm branch again. Its thin green leaves 
quiver like the long strings of a harp that is being 
tuned. 

"Wait, palm branch," I comfort it while shaking it, 
"father will come soon, take you in his hands, offer a 
benediction over you and then you won't feel so 
cold and strange in our house." 

And where is the etrog? 

The yellow citron, plump and big, is sprawled like 
a Pharaoh on a soft bed in the middle of the silver 
sugar box. In the place of the sugar, which has been 

[101] 



removed, the citron gives off a fragrance like an em 
peror's. And where has it come from? 

Now father is entering the house, my brothers after 
him. 

"Come on, let us offer the benediction over the 
palm branch!" 

Father looks at the palm branch, at the citron. He 
takes the citron out of its bed and puts it beside the 
palm branch. They nestle against each other. Are 
they perhaps natives of the same land? 

And father, his eyes lowered, speaking the benedic 
tion aloud, as though taking an oath, pulls the palm 
branch upward, lowers it, places it near his heart, 
takes it away, shakes it to one side, to the other. The 
palm branch bends, sways. Its head trembles. Its long 
leaves stretch forward, all of themselves, into praying 
hands. 

And the moment father stops, the palm branch 
composes its quivering body. 

"Here, do you want to say the palm branch bene 
diction?" Father hands it to the elder brother. 

The palm branch passes from hand to hand. All the 
six brothers have fallen upon it; they shake it, break 
it, fence with it as with a sword. Barely surviving, 
it is put back near the window. 

The finished sukkah stands waiting a whole day be 
fore at last they go to eat in it. 

During the day it has absorbed the odor of pine, its 



walls and the damp earth underfoot have dried. When 
evening comes, father and my brothers put on their 
coats as though preparing to go away. They go to eat 
supper in the sukkah. 

Neither mother nor I nor the cook goes there. The 
three of us have only been allowed to go up to the 
door of the sukkah to hear father's benediction over 
the kiddush cup. 

And the meals are served to those in the sukkah 
through a little window, as through a hole, one plate 
after another. My brothers can make believe that the 
plates with the food come to them straight from 
heaven. 

Do they give a thought to us who have been left in 
the house? 

In the apartment it is cold. It seems empty, and it 
feels as if there were no doors and windows. I sit with 
mother and eat without zest. 

"Mother, why have we been left here with the 
servants, as though we too were servants? What kind 
of holiday is that, mother?" I keep tormenting her. 
"Why do they eat apart from us?" 

"Ah, my little child, they're men," says mother, 
sadly, as she eats her piece of cold meat. 

Suddenly the kitchen is in uproar. The maids run 
back and forth between the courtyard and the house. 
"Mistress, it's beginning to rain!" 
"Take the whole meal at once, so that they can say 
the blessings quickly!" Mother too is upset. 



I am glad that it is raining in the middle of supper. 
For mother and me the holiday is so sad! 

Suddenly bang! -a thunderclap comes. I look 
through the window to see whether the sukkah has 
fallen apart. It is flooded with water. 

In a trice the branches have been soaked through, 
turned flat and thin. Water drips on the table in the 
sukkah, it drips from the branches, from the walls. 
The maids run to and fro with covered plates in their 
hands. The rain is pattering on the plates, trying to 
uncover them. 

Through the noise of the rain I hear father's bene 
dictions. My brothers' high voices merge into the rain. 

And one after the other, with their collars up, they 
run out of the sukkah. We look at them as though we 
had not seen them for a long time. They invade the 
apartment like people coming from another world. 

Thus a few days go by. Now the sukkah is taken 
apart altogether. Board after board is pulled off. The 
walls are folded up. The roof of branches falls in, 
breaks up underfoot. The courtyard is filled with 
little needles. 

The sukkah vanishes as if it had never been there. 

The palm branch is taken down from the window 
ledge. 

"Look what's become of it!" My brothers make 
fun of it. "It's like an old, old man, all dried up and 
toothless." 



"Please," I beg of them, "weave some toy for me, 
a little basket or something like that!" 

My brother Aaron sets to work. He has long, deft 
fingers. He tears one leaf after another from the palm 
branch. Each leaf whistles, bends. My brother's fin 
gers dart about, splice it. He cuts narrow ribbons of 
it, plaits them into strips. One is fitted into an 
other, and there it is, all ready, a little basket, a little 
trough, a table or a chair. Of the tall palm branch 
there remains only a hollow stalk. 

And the etrog has been forgotten altogether. The 
cook has thrown it into a pan of boiling water, 
scalded it alive. The plump fruit has been boiled 
down to a saucer of thick juice. 

There is a pull at my heart. The holiday has been 
boiled away. May Simchat Torah come soon, when 
the whole town, as it always seems, will be visiting us. 



SIMGHAT TORAH 



ONCE a year we children are allowed freely to 
make merry in the shul. From evening on we 
pant from the boisterousness of the hakkaf ot. 

The shul is packed full of people. There is no place 
in which to get away from the boys. Even little girls 
come to the men's section for the hakkafot, and to 
gether with the boys they crowd around underfoot. 
The lamps seem to burn with a new flame. The holy 
ark is open, the scrolls of the Torah are carried out of 
it, one after the other. All of them are dressed up in little 
holiday mantles. 

The shul is glorified like a holy temple. Men 
dance and stamp with the scrolls of the Torah in their 
hands. We children dance and stamp with them. 

Like little wild creatures we run around the lec 
tern, jumping up on it at one side, jumping down at 
the other. The wooden steps groan under our feet. 

We push and chase one another; each of us wants 
to run around the lectern as many times as possible. 
We are not given time to touch or stroke its carved 
handrail, not even to catch our breath. 

[106] 



The rattles shake in our hands; the shul is filled 
with their noise. The paper flags whistle, flutter after 
us, and tear in the wind. 

The shames hides in a corner. He fears that we 
will push the walls apart. Now it seems that the books 
on the stands are beginning to slip. He begs us: "Chil 
dren, will there be no end of this? We've had enough! 
You'll upset the whole shul!" 

We cannot stop. Our heads are whirling. We can 
not stand on our feet. 

I am exhausted when I drag myself home behind 
my brothers with my torn flag in my hand. 

Next day, from early morning on, our apartment 
is in a bustle. Preparations are under way. Guests are 
expected. 

We hurry to go to shul. We hurry to get through 
with the praying as soon as possible. Even before the 
end of the service, the men gather in clusters and ask 
each other in whispers: "Well, has it been decided to 
whom we are going first for the kiddush?" 

"Sh-sh-sh! Sha! Uh! Ah!" 

"Reb Shmul Noah has invited the whole shul!" 
someone whispers. 

"Oh, then there'll be plenty to drink! Don't you 
think so, Reb Hershl?" This question is addressed to 
a thin man with a red nose. 

"You're asking me? Well, then, let's first go to Reb 
Shmul Noah's. I'd say that he is a quite respectable 
householder!" 



Then the whole shul pours out into the street. 

"Why do you dawdle? Come on, faster, there are 
still plenty of places to go to!" 

"Today the Jews will get drunk!" The gentile 
passers-by smile. 

Even the fat monk standing in the road moves of 
his own accord to one side to let them pass. The 
whole congregation invades our apartment, it becomes 
crowded and hot. 

"Gut yom-tov! Gut yom-tov! Gut yom-tov, bale- 
boste!" 

The women withdraw to one side. The crowd at 
once makes its way to the tables. "What is on the 
platters?" they ask one another. 

The guests rub their hands with pleasure, push the 
chairs about, look at the table. Decked out as for a 
wedding, the table almost bends under the waiting 
feast. There are slices of cake, tarts, sponge cake with 
honey, platters of pickled herring, chopped liver, 
eggs in goose fat, calf s-foot jelly, fried udders. And 
bottles of wine and spirits stand on parade like 
soldiers. 

"Why are you so mulish? Let another fellow have 
a chance too!" A tumult arises around the table. 

"Why should you always be first? This is not the 
shul when people are called to the scroll of the Law!" 

"He is more interested in drink than in anything 
else, so let him go through," the others laugh. 

"Sha, here comes Reb Shmul Noah! To your 
[108] 



health, Reb Shmul Noah! To your health, raboisai!" 

Father, as always, is the last to come from shul In 
his long holiday coat, with his hat on his head, he 
looks taller, broader. "To your health, le-chayim, gut 
yom-tov!" he replies. 

Father's high hat shakes on his head. He removes it 
and keeps his head covered with his skullcap. Then 
he asks: "Raboisai, have you made kiddush?" 

"And you, our hosts?" 

Several men stand up to make kiddush all at once: 
"Blessed be the Creator of the fruit of the vine" 

They begin to sway. The wine is sipped. They 
attack the brandy, they eat, they take morsels from 
each platter. 

"Le-chayim, hostess! Your herring is a herring!" 

"And the petcha a rare treat!" 

Mother's face shines with pleasure. 

Suddenly, like a jester at a wedding, the shames 
rises from the table. "Who wants to say mi- 
sheberach?" he asks. "Who will begin?" 

A man with a long white beard rises from his seat, 
clears his throat, strokes his beard, moves sideways, 
parts his dense mustache, as though the beard and the 
mustache hindered him from opening his mouth. 

"Mi-sheberach " He begins in a singsong voice, 
swinging his body. 

"Have you heard? How much does he give? How 
much has he pledged?" 

The shames prances from one to another, and just 
[109] 



as if he were presenting a wedding gift to a bridal 
couple, he sings out loudly the name of the donor and 
the amount of the promised contribution. 

"Why does he put cold towels on our heads? 
Where is some more drink? Hand us that bottle! 
Why do you keep it up there?" 

Empty bottles roll away. New ones are opened, as 
though the party were only beginning. Glasses and 
goblets are filled, wine splashes on the tablecloth. 
Suddenly the man with the white beard bangs the 
table and cries out: "Silence!" 

He closes his eyes and utters a sigh so deep that it 
sounds as though he were tearing out a piece of his 
heart and casting it far from him. His sigh runs over 
the table like a tremor. And suddenlyas if coming 
from afar, growing out of the sigh there begins, in 
a low tone, the Rabbi's Song. 

There is a humming. The old man's head is sway 
ing. His brow is knitted. His lips and mustache are 
aquiver. Gradually he bewitches everyone. Pale faces 
begin to blaze. Eyes close. And in one breath all of 
them chant the song voice after voice, higher and 
higher. 

The melody spreads, swells, flares like a fire. The 
people swim in the song. With closed eyes they sway, 
bang the table; they seem to be trying to make the 
table itself sing, to wrench themselves free of the 
earth. 

Some cry with fear, others sink into lamentation, 
[no] 



still others pray or weep. The melody is full of tears 
that do not fall. Some of the guests snap their fingers. 
Hands are outstretched. One man seizes his beard in 
his hand and supports it firmlyperhaps thus to hold 
his leaping heart. 

Suddenly the lamentation stops. Joy breaks out. 

"Ah, fellow Jews, there is a God in the world!" 
The white-bearded guest cranes his neck, as though 
the All-Highest himself were shedding glory upon 
him from above. 

"Why are you sitting, friends? Today is Simchat 
Torah, the festival of the Torah the rabbi said that 
one must make merry, dance!" 

A hand and a foot shoot out, as if tearing, loose 
from the body, and let themselves go. 

The table is pushed to one side, the chairs are 
kicked away. The walls themselves seem to be sway 
ing. The tablecloth slips. Pieces of cake and some 
glasses fall to the floor. The men begin to leap, to 
stamp in one spot. They turn the flaps of their coats, 
and they form little dance circles. Their shoulders 
are bent, their hands are interlocked, almost as if tied 
together. Shoulder to shoulder, each hangs on the 
other. They do not let go, as though they feared that 
if they were left alone they would fall in pieces. 

People cannot see one another, no one sees himself. 
The dancers' boots kick high curves. Sometimes their 
feet give out. 

A fresh back straightens itself and with a fresh 

co 



strength the newcomer hurls himself into the seething 
dance as into a fire. The whole ring of dancers drags 
after him. Now no one remains sitting at the table. 
The table itself takes motion and pushes toward the 
revelers. 

"Reb Shmul Noah, our host, what are you waiting 
for? Get up!" 

And father, always so quiet, so calm, moves from 
his place, makes his way toward the dancing men, 
and falls into the whirling ring. The chain of people 
gives a tug and swallows him. 

From my corner I watch father. I look for him 
among the dancers. There is his head, slightly bent to 
one side, his eyes lowered, his long beard afloat. There 
he is, whirling as in a sweet dream, his whole body 
melting with pleasure. 

My father is dancing! I can no longer keep still. 
"Mother, may I?" 

The women in the corners are thrilled. Once a year 
their husbands make merry. 

"Mother, please let me! I too want to dance, to 
have a whirl with father!" I pull my mother's sleeve. 
"What are you saying, my child, you'll be tram 
pled down on the spot! You see!" 

With a shout, a tall, thin Jew bounces into the 
room. He turns a somersault and lands on his feet. 
He twists on the floor like a worm, and in one jump 
lands in the kitchen. "Make way, make way!" he 
cries. 



"Oi, woe is me!" The cook is frightened. "Reb 
Lalzer, have pity on me! What do you want to do in 
the kitchen?" 

She has recognized in him a neighbor from our 
courtyard. But the thin newcomer does not listen- 
she might as well not have spoken. He snatches up 
the big fork and drags out of the oven a large earthen 
ware pot full of the black, sticky delicacy called 
kulaie. The pot turns over, its contents spill out over 
the visitor. He turns black like a Negro, runs back 
into the room, and further excites the drunken 
dancers. 

All of them are dizzy; they can barely stand on 
their feet. They drop into the chairs exhausted. With 
their heads bent, they lie for a while as in a faint. 

"Raboisai, gentlemen, we have still to visit Reb 
Mendel!" One of them comes to with a shout. 

All of them jump up from their seats as though 
they had been lashed, and run with tottering legs out 
into the street. Father runs with them. 

When the first stars come out, father appears in the 
doorway, a little drunk, staggering. He is ashamed to 
enter the apartment. Like a sheaf of grain falling he 
tumbles onto his bed. 

We are ashamed with him. 




THE FIRST SNOW 



A FTER the Fearful Days come dragging, humdrum 
ji\. days, days without meaning, without savor- 
short, gray days. 

Outside it rains constantly; the rain, it seems, has 
forgotten to stop. The windowpanes are lashed and 
spattered, the glistening raindrops roll down on them 
in little tears, as though they were weeping. 

At home it is dark even during the day. 

The day has no sooner begun than it flickers out. 
Even the wall clock ticks quietly, slowly, draws out 
the hours and chimes them hoarsely. I do not know 



where to escape from sadness. There is something 
like a choked weeping in the patter of rain. 

"Havah," I say to the cook again and again, "some 
one is scratching at the door. Open it! " 

"Oi, let me alone! I wish someone would come! 
But who would come when it is pouring without 
end?" 

"Don't you hear? Someone is splashing in the 
mud!" 

"Small wonder! It's been raining and blowing for 
a whole day and night!" 

"No, there are many feet stamping in the court 
yard!" 

"Well, look at her! There's no way of getting rid 
of the girl! Now you'll see, little goose, there's no 
one there. What's that?" 

Havah stops, her mouth wide open. From the dim 
hall a pair of dark eyes glitter like a wolf's from be 
hind a tree. Two tangled beards poke in at the door. 
They are dripping with rain. 

"Robbers!" I pull Havah by the sleeve. 

"What on earth is this?" Havah, frightened too, is 
infuriated. 

"Cabbage, little lady, weVe brought fresh cab 
bage!" The beards shake and a heavy breath wafts 
toward us. Two tall peasants, drenched through and 
through, drag in heavy, wet sacks behind them. They 
are both dripping like thatched roofs. Their boots 
squeak with water. 

[1x6] 



They stop in the hallway. They scratch their heads 
and stand for a while, as if lost. They are feeling dry 
ground underfoot. 

"Why do you stand there, you soul of a dog? 
Don't you see the door?" They push one another and 
stamp their feet. 

"Fie on your head!" The other one spits. The 
sacks are heavy they might be filled with stones. The 
peasants are panting. Their breath is like a mist; the 
hall seems full of vapor. 

"Here, go slow! Ah, what mud, what dirt!" The 
cook berates them. "You've messed up everything, 
like pigs. Don't walk another step with your muddy 
boots! There, there, in the corner!" Havah has taken 
up her post in the middle of the kitchen, and does not 
permit the peasants to make one needless move. 
"What a time you've chosen! Couldn't you come on 
a dry day? You've brought all the mud in the village 
here. I've just scrubbed the kitchen. And how is the 
cabbage? Probably rotten through and through!" 

From the sacks white, round heads of cabbage fall 
out, so curled, so cleaneach little head seems decked 
with a white lace coverlet. Not even stained by the 
muddy sacks! Little head after little head, one tum 
bles out after the other. Each rolls out bottom up; 
they rub cheeks, huddle against one another. 

A huge mountain of cabbages has piled up. There 
is a whiff of fresh, strong odor, as though suddenly a 
whole field of cabbage had been planted in the mid- 



die of the kitchen. The kitchen has come back to life 
and we with it. Havah at once sets to work. She rolls 
up her sleeves, brings in tubs and pails. 

"Children, do not climb on the cabbage!" she says 
in a commanding tone. "Sasha, bring the table from 
the cellar, wash it clean." 

A narrow, long table with an iron cleaver in the 
center of it has been pushed up to the cabbage pile. I 
feel a heart stab, as if the hangman in person had 
taken up his post in the kitchen. 

A head of cabbage is thrown on the table. It slides 
under the teeth of the cleaver, and in a flash it is cut 
into shreds. Another head is pushed up to the cleaver, 
which moves up and down. Shreds of cabbage fly like 
feathers and fall into the tubs placed underneath. 

On the sliced cabbage water is poured; grains of 
pepper are thrown into it. The water gushes, mounts 
to the surface, seethes into the cabbage that keeps 
dropping down from the table into the tubs. 

The pails, the barrels are full. Disks of red carrot 
dot the pallor of the cabbage. It is weighted down 
with a big stone placed on it as a lid; the cabbage 
cannot escape from under it. 

I accompany the tubs to the dark cellar. There in 
the damp air the once living white, hard cabbage will 
quickly soak through and ferment. We children fall 
upon the leftover sweet little hearts and scoop them 
out with our teeth. 

[1.8] 



Nor do we miss the day when cucumbers are 
pickled. 

"Havah, give us a cucumber, we'll help you clean 
it!" 

"So you've already got wind of the cucumbers too? 
I know your tricks!" 

The cook admonishes us not to pass over any cu 
cumber with a black speck on it. We rub the cucum 
bers, polish them like shoes, till their green skins shine. 

It is almost unbearable to see the polished cucum 
bers laid out in a trough and buried under the yellow 
flowerets of dill and other sharp and bitter herbs. The 
cucumbers are soaking in a damp little grave. 

Each of us chooses a particularly shining cucumber, 
snatches it from the trough, and cracks it like a nut 
between his teeth. 

"You brats!" cries the cook. "What have I been 
telling you? You'll eat up all the cucumbers!" 

And we, with our mouths full, shout at her: "Ugh, 
you witch! You want to soak everything, get every 
thing moldy with your sour pickle! Who will be able 
even to recall the taste of a fresh green cucumber?" 

And with a sour taste on our tongues we take our 
selves out of the kitchen. Rain is pouring down. We 
feel moldy ourselves. 

Suddenly one morning, when I wake up, there is a 
miracle. Light shines in my eyes! The rain has 
stopped, the whole apartment is bright! The windows 

["93 



are clear, the panes are dry, and through them come 
white shafts of light. 

"Snow! Snow has fallen!" We cannot tear our 
selves from the windows. 

The courtyard does not look like our courtyard. 
Yesterday it was gray and gloomy, and now it stands 
there all dressed in white. Snow is falling on it from 
above like a shimmering veil. It must have been snow 
ing all night long. 

The roofs and the balconies already lie under 
high, puff ed-up f eatherbeds of snow. There are piles 
of snow at the doors. The stairs are covered with a 
thick white carpet. And it is still falling from the sky, 
the white, silvery snow; the air is glittering with 
snowflakes, as though the sky in the middle of the day 
were scattering its stars on the earth. Our eyes are 
washed clear by the first snow. Or perhaps I have 
been given a pair of new, white eyes? 

The little birds have suddenly flown away. And 
from the trees little nestling clumps of snow peep 
out, like frozen straylings. 

"Let's see who'll be first to step on the snow!" 
Abrashke presses his face to the windowpane; his 
flattened nose sticks to the glass. "Look, snow has 
fallen between the windowpanes too!" 

Long, narrow pads of white cotton have been un 
rolled between the double windows; they glitter like 
real snow with the silver threads that are laced over 
them. And from the cotton there protrude shame- 

[120] 



facedly a few red and pink paper flowers that are 
wondering how they have grown here. 

My brother breathes on the glass, passes his finger 
over it, and draws a terrifying head with hair. We 
burst into laughter. The little flowers begin to quiver. 
Abrashke, the prankster, is pleased when he frightens 
anyone, even if it is only a paper flower. 

"Get away from the windows, you rascals! That's 
all we need someone to break a pane in this cold!" 

We are driven away from the window. And we 
fancy that the white snow is falling behind us on our 
backs. 



[12,] 



THE HANUKKAH LAMP 



cc /CHILDREN, where are you all? Mendl, Avreml, 

VJ Bashke, where have you all got lost?" Moth 
er's high voice is heard from the shop. "Where do 
you run about for whole days? Come, father is wait 
ing with the Hanukkah lights." 

Where would we be? We are standing and warm 
ing ourselves at the stove. The day has almost gone. 
It is now dark. So we are waiting for the shop to be 
closed. 

Mother runs out of the shop like a culprit, apolo 
gizes to herself: "Today is a sort of holiday, and Fm 
still tangled up in the shop. Let us at least gather the 
children and bless the Hanukkah lights." 

All together we go to the big room, where father 
is waiting for us. 

The room, although large, has only one small win 
dow. Father stands with his back to the window, and 
the scant light from outside is quite shut out. So all 
of us are standing in darkness, waiting for the little 
taper to be lighted. 

[122] 



Father's head is bent over the Hanukkah lamp. On 
the dark wall father's shadow bends too; it might be 
another father roaming about and looking for some 
thing on the wall. When his head turns to one side, 
the dark silver of the Hanukkah lamp glimmers. Like 
a sleepy moon it reveals itself, shining out from the 
corner where it was concealed, hidden from every 
one. 

The Hanukkah lamp is small, almost like a toy. But 
how many things are carved on its tiny silver wall! 
In the center are two lions with fiery heads, open 
mouths; with their legs upraised they hold up the out 
spread tables of the Law. The tablets are blank, with 
out a single letter on them, but they give forth a light 
as though they were packed full of sacred wisdom 
inside. 

Around the lions there is a garden. It blooms, a real 
paradise it has little vines with grapes, and familiar 
fruit fallen from the trees. A pair of birds peep out 
from the branches. And even a big serpent crawls 
there. 

At either side of the paradise there stand on watch 
two silver pitchers, tiny too, but with fat, stuffed 
little bellies. They see to it that the paradise does not 
lack oil. And to gladden one's eyes there is under the 
lions and birds a little bridge, divided into eight little 
goblets that are waiting for a flame to go up from 
them. Father's white hands move among the goblets. 
From one father begins with the first he pulls out 

C3l 



a tiny wick; then he tips a pitcher and pours a drop of 
oil into the goblet. The wick drinks in the oil, be 
comes soft and white, almost like a candle. 

Father says a benediction and lights the wick. Only 
one light. Father does not even touch the other gob 
lets. All seven of them stand as though superfluous, 
empty and cold. 

It is not festive at all with only one light burning. 
My heart tightens, as though God forbida memorial 
candle were burning. 

Its flame is so little that it could be put out with 
one whiff . No reflection falls from the light onto the 
dark floor. Even the wall of the paradise is not much 
illumined. Of the two lions, only one receives a little 
warmth from below, the other does not even know 
that something is burning beside him. 

My parents and my brothers have gone. I approach 
the light; I try to pull up its wick, hoping to brighten 
its flame. But there is nothing that I can grasp with 
my hand. I singe my fingers. The little flame burns, 
faints, flickers, trembles all the time. At any moment 
it will go out; it makes an effort to rise upward at 
least once, to lick a grape on the silver wall, or to 
warm one foot of the carved lion. 

Suddenly, one after another, drops of thick oil 
begin to fall from the taper; they clog the little open 
ing of the goblet, and they smother the little flame. 
The wick begins to smoke and smears the woodwork 
of the window. 

[4J 



A fresh gray stain is added to the stains that have 
remained on the window frame since last year's 
Hanukkah. All the stains shine above the solitary 
light, almost outshine the light itself. And when the 
big chandelier is lighted, the large flame of the lamp 
blows away the last breath of the Hanukkah light. 

Why are mother's Sabbath candles tall and large? 
And why does big father bless such a tiny Hanukkah 
light? 



THE FIFTH LIGHT 



ONE light after another Is kindled. Now all of five 
lights are burning in the Hanukkah lamp. All 
five have been lighted at one time. One candle fans 
the next and the flame of all five spreads from right to 
left over the Hanukkah lamp and now warms the 
whole silver paradise. Around the dining table, all the 
children, big and small, have gathered. The chandelier 
glows with a full holiday flame. From the kitchen 
comes one fragrant odor after another. 

The boiled salmon cools off there under a little 
pond of sauce. Onion ringlets that have been cooked 
with the salmon are caught in the sauce as though 
frozen in ice. 

The grieven have already turned black and hard, 
although their little ears are drowned in fat. A pot 
of fat sizzles on the hot coals. The kitchen is hot. 
Havah's cheeks are aflame. She stands before the open 
oven and with iron tongs in her hands she reaches for 
the pans. Now she heats one, now she smears another 
with a piece of greased paper; she pours out a spoon- 




ful of liquid dough, or removes a freshly fried latke 
from the pan. Hot, plump, they glisten, the latkes, 
with pearls of fat, and they jump on the fire like new- 



bom little babies when they are slapped with the 
hand. 

We watch the cook as though she were a magician. 

"Havah, the thick latke is for me, isn't it?" 
Abrashke sticks out his stuffed cheeks, which seem 
about to burst. 

"You'll end up by getting a tummy-ache! How 
many latkes must you stuff yourself with? This brat 
doesn't give me a minute of respite!" Havah grumbles 
while she goes on frying, and piles up platters of hot, 
fresh latkes. 

We laugh in delight and lick our fingers. The 
latkes are sliding in fat. We crunch the grieven. What 
shall we get at first? 

And there, suddenly, is a pile of little pieces of 
wood on the table tiny blocks, shaped like little kegs, 
poured out of a box. A lotto game! 

Hard white cards are dealt out to us. On the cards, 
from top to bottom, there are black numbers, all in a 
hodgepodge. A figure two stands beside a nine, a 
seven beside a three a mixed-up kind of order. The 
game comes to an end when anyone is lucky enough 
to have covered all his numbers with the little wooden 
kegs, on which the same numbers are painted. The 
whole game is a matter of chance. Each time a block 
is drawn, everyone starts, as though the number had 
jolted his luck: "Eleven! Four! Seven!" 

"The four is out! Here is the four!" 

"Who has seven? No one has seven?" 
["8] 



The little block turns in my brother's hand, is 
pushed upon the table. 

Number seven rolls under the gleaming lamp like a 
black devil on one leg. The block merges with the 
number; the figures make my eyes dizzy. 

"You clumsy fool! You've got a seven! Why don't 
you say so? Must you always have everything put 
under your nose?" Abrashke squeals behind my back. 

"Will I win?" 

"You blockhead! Do you think one wins so fast?" 

Everyone puts in a word. 

"What can you do with her? She is dreamirlg, she 
is asleep!" 

"She has just eaten too many latkes! Can't you tell 
by her eyes?" 

"What else? Don't talk such nonsense! Say rather 
that she doesn't even know how to write a seven!" 

"Really?" 

At this point I cannot stand it any longer. "The 
teacher says Fm a better pupil than you!" I answer 
them. "I know a seven very well it's a lucky number! " 

"YouVe almost missed your luck by sleeping!" 

Out of fright, I no longer let the block go out of 
my sight. Suddenly I jump up. "Look!" I cry. "I've 
won, won, I've won in spite of you!" 

Everyone turns to me, and together with all of 
them I gaze at my card, miraculously all covered 
with the blocks. 

"A fool always has luck!" Abrashke shoots out. 



Everyone envies me. Even the kindly Mendl bangs 
the table with his cards, as though rapping my hands. 

"I lacked one number, one single number, to win!" 
He frets and fumes. 

"Never mind, you'll win some other time! To her 
the few kopeks she has won mean a great deal," 
Abrashke says, leering in my direction. 




My joy Is ruined. The money burns my fingers. 

"Better see how the teetotum will spin! " Abrashke 
twirls the leaden top on the table. 

The single leg of the top has barely touched the 
slippery oilcloth and it is spinning as fast as anything. 
It zooms, whistles like a wind, as if it were spinning 
up into the air. 

Everyone's eyes are fixed on the teetotum. As it 
spins, its sides look sunken in. The letters gimel and 
nun have flashed out once and evaporated. But as 
though the top were losing its breath, the little wind 
begins to subside, the leg spins more and more slowly. 



The leaden sides with the carved letters on them be 
come plain. The gimel, the shin, the heh, and the nun 
are nodding to us with their little heads, as though 
they had come from afar. 

"I'll bet you anything you like that it will stop on 
the gimel." 

"How could it do otherwise, if that's what you 
want!" 

Each of us stares at the gimel, trying to intercept 
it with his eyes, stop it in its path. And now it seems 
that the teetotum is about to stop, on the gimel, which 
stands for "good." The shin, which stands for "bad," 
and comes right after, trips the gimel, as it were. The 
gimel falls on its face, and the shin stands up in the 
middle of the table. 

"Now will you bet again?" 

"Well, what is there to talk about? It's a holiday 
today! Let's play a game of cards, eh?" 

With new ardor we fall upon the cards. And the 
cards themselves strike our eyes with their painted 
faces. 

Only a queen has a white, smooth face, a slender 
figure. A king occupies the whole card with his body, 
trying to give it more weight with his fatness. 

The knaves, who are younger, want to show off 
with their skillfully twisted mustaches. Sometimes the 
two knaves on one card appear to be pushing each 
other with their sawed-off legs. Each would like to be 
in the middle. 



It is a science in itself to know the value of each 
card. 

"We're playing Twenty-One, eh?" 

My brothers grow excited. Again and again one of 
them shuffles the cards, thumbs them with a gesture 
of airing them. He blows, spits on his fingers, pushes 
the cards out of one hand into the other. Suddenly he 
cries out: "Cut!" 

Another player picks up a portion of the cards and 
places them on the remaining ones. 

"Tap on them!" the first commands. 

"Why do you give orders all the time?" cries an 
other. "That's enough shuffling of the cards! What 
do you want to make of themnew cards? Do you 
think you're frying latkes?" 

"One, two here's a card. And here is one for you. 
One, two, three" 

The cards are lined up like men on a battlefield. 
With bated breath all of us watch them slipping out 
from under my brother's thumb. We sit as on needles. 
We are afraid to see what card has turned up. 

"My partner surely has a better hand," each of us 
thinks to himself, and jams his cards more tightly into 
his fist, until he crumples them altogether, as though 
his winning chances depended only upon hiding his 
hand from his partner's sight. And he has to guard 
his secret! 

The hardest thing to do is to let the cards lie on the 
table and not look at them, but keep them in mind. 



So the cards are arrayed in rows face down on the 
table, and each of us sits and waits for a miracle: per 
haps he will be the winner. If it turns out that he is 
holding a knave, his heart sinks: it's all over not he 
but his partner will win! 

"Don't be so conceited!" one begins to tease the 
other. "Sometimes a low card is better than the big 
king." 

"What have you got against longs?" 

"Do you imagine that by not saying anything 
you've made your cards silent?" 

"I don't need your kings I've got a card that's 
better than a queen! " 

"Let's see, let's see!" All of us fall upon the boaster, 
Abrashke. 

"How can you believe him, the thief!" cries 
the other. "And why do you kick all our chairs? 
Look, you've made me drop a card out of my 
hand!" 

"I've made you do it?" Abrashke apes him. "You 
fool, what are you babbling? You're dropping them 
from fright!" 

"You chump, give me back my card, or you'll be 
out of the game!" 

"Is that so? Just wait!" Abrashke rolls on the floor. 
"Now I've got you all in my left whiskers! Here she 
lies, the queen, her face up!" 

Abrashke whinnies in his glee at having been the 
first to see another's precious card. 



"Give it to me, it's my card!" the other protests. 
"One doesn't play with such thievish tricks! Such a 
game doesn't count!" 

"And how do you know what is allowed and what 
isn't? A new sage!" 

"What a rascal! He turns the world upside down!" 

My brothers fall upon one another, a tumult arises 
around the table. The cards are pushed about, the 
chairs move here and there. One elbows in, another 
starts a fight. One slaps the other in the face and is 
slapped in turn. A real war has broken out they 
might almost be shooting with guns. 

"Anyhow, it's not your queen!" the victim persists. 

"Why?" Abrashke refuses to give in. "On the 
floor or on the table, it's a card, not a fig!" 

"Take that, you dog! This time all your tricks 
won't help!" 

"Hush, children, how long will you keep up this 
noise? It's not possible to go to sleep! It's already mid 
night!" 

My brothers stop, exchange glances. Father's voice 
from the bedroom is like a dash of cold water on all 
of us. 

I quietly gather up the cards. My head seems to be 
swelling all the cards are fighting in my head. 

The kopeks I have won keep me from falling 
asleep. They lie under my pillow, but it is as though 
they were crawling out from under the feathers, mur- 



muring, pricking my ears, I am afraid to touch them 
they might as well be stolen money* 

I can hardly wait for the morning, and I give them 
to the first beggar who knocks at our door. 



[135] 



HANUKKAH MONEY 



MOTHER once told me that I was born during 
Hanukkah, on the day of the fifth light. But 
who knows that in our house? None of my brothers 
ever thinks about when he came into the world. 

"All right, you were bornan event indeed! What 
of it?" My brothers laugh. "What do you want, to 
be born all over again?" 

And my father booms out: "What's this? A new 
holiday, all of a sudden? Only a goyish head could 
have thought that up!" 

So all I had to rejoice about at Hanukkah were the 
two ten-kopek pieces of Hanukkah money that we 
younger children received from father and grand 
father. 

For the money we would hire a sleigh and take a 
ride. To go riding with a real horse was a treat we 
were ready for on any day. The two silver ten-kopek 
pieces sang and rang in our ears like the bells of the 
sleigh that would take us all over the town. Grand 
father's coin was particularly shining, as though he 
had had it scrubbed for us in honor of Hanukkah. 

On the day of Hanukkah, early in the morning, 



Abrashke and I run to grandfather's house. If the old 
man is still asleep, we'll wake him up. Perhaps he has 
completely forgotten that there is Hanukkah in the 
world? 

Grandfather lives (how did that ever happen to 
him?) in a goyish street. Its name is Officers' Drive. 
Probably he lives there because it is near the great 
square of the synagogues. 

It is a street of little white houses the whole street 
is white. It is the quietest street in the city no shops, 
no din. There one can really fall asleep. One cannot 
even laugh out loud in the middle of the street. Imme 
diately, from behind the flowerpots that block up the 
windows, the flowered caps of old ladies stick out; 
and they shake their heads and call out: "Stop laugh 
ing, you brats!" 

As though a sick grandfather were lying in every 
little house! 

And the houses are so low that perhaps all that one 
can do is to lie down in them. And what if a tall man 
should want to stand up? He would have to bend 
over double. Probably that is why my grandfather 
and grandmother grow shorter every year. 

Some of the little houses are quite sunken in. It 
seems as though the aged people who live in them are 
growing into the earth, and one wonders whether 
the flowerpots are standing on the window sills or 
growing from the street. 

From inside one neither sees nor hears anything. 



The little houses are wrapped in snow as in thick, 
warm blankets. Their walls are stopped up, like deaf 
ears. The wind blows the snow onto the windows, it 
fills up the cracks, but the old lace curtains do not 
shake even the tiniest bit. Over the roofs, the chimney 
smoke roams freely, like a drunken goy. It seems as if it 
felt too hot from the heat in the houses: the smoke is 
restless, stretches to all sides, tries to get out of the 
chimneys by force. The little houses sweat under 
snow, a white sweat. 

"Here, here, you dreaming slowpoke! Why are 
you gaping in all directions?" Abrashke suddenly 
bursts out into resounding laughter and pelts me with 
snowballs from across the street. "You crazy duck, 
stop yelling! People will be coming from all doors!" 

"In this cold? What do you want to bet?" 

From behind a fence a white tree looms up appar 
ently an old tree. The snow is piled up on it like a 
dozen cushions on grandmother's bed. The branches 
can hardly bear up under it. Abrashke scrambles up 
the fence, climbs the tree, and gives it a shake. 

The whole tree begins to quiver. Lumps of snow 
fall from it like stones. A bare branch cracks and 
breaks. 

"You wicked creature!" I protest. "Isn't there 
enough snow on the street for you? Does it bother 
you if it lies on the tree?" 

"It's my tree just as much as yours! Are you a close 
relative of it, or what?" 



I feel like running into a little house, no matter 
whose. Perhaps a little old woman will be standing 
behind the door, and I can hide from Abrashke in her 
warm, wadded skirts. 

Grandfather's house is at the very end of the street. 
It is a little house like all the others the same flower 
pots, the same carved shutters with panels cut like 
candy bars and with snow stuffed into their little 
holes; there is the same smoke over the roof. But the 
house looks whiter and warmer than all the others. 

Abrashke runs up to the door and instantly pulls 
the bell cord. The bell gives a hoarse cough and falls 
silent. 

"Ah, so you're here akeady, children! I'm only 
about to go to market, and they're already coming for 
Hanukkah money!" 

This welcome is from Fride, grandmother's old 
cook. She opens the door. A shawl is around her 
shoulders. "B-r~r-r! What cold you have brought 
with you! Come in, quickly. Is it really so cold in the 
street? Shall I put another kerchief around me, like 
you, Bashinke?" 

She stamps her feet, and as she stamps her summer 
freckles jump on her face. In the winter they look 
like dried drops of fat that she has forgotten to wash 
off. She is always in a hurry, she is always in a dither. 
She says that she is about to go to market. But she 
has already cooked her dinner. We can smell some 
thing roasting in the kitchen. 

[140] 



"Fride, will you let us taste a roasted potato?" 

"How do you know that I'm roasting potatoes?" 

"Fride, is grandfather still asleep?" 

"Who is asleep? What's this talking of sleep? Isn't 
he studying the Talmud all the time? Scat!" She pushes 
the cat out of her marketing basket. "She's invented 
something new! Creeping into my basket!" 

The noise awakens the cat. A gleam shoots from 
the slits of her eyes; she sees the snow sticking to our 
feet, lifts her tail, pricks up her whiskers, and stretches 
toward us to lick the flakes of cold snow. The snow 
melts under her nose and she begins to sneeze. 

"A cat's brain!" Abrashke says, pulling her by the 
tail. "It would be better to go tell grandmother that 
we're here." 

"Why bother the cat? She is such a lazybones! I 
can go much faster than she! " 

Grandmother comes in. She moves silently, as 
though her gentle smile softened her footsteps too. 

"Such cold, children, and yet you're here? You're 
surely on an important errand," she says smiling. 
"And take your things off quickly, Bashinke! Warm 
yourself by the stove but look out, don't bum your 
self. I've just closed the chimney." 

Grandmother stands near us in bewilderment. "Do 
you want a glass of warm milk?" she asks. "It's so 
early, what shall I give you for a treat?" 

She does not know what to do firstwhether to 
help us to take our coats off or to go and look for a 

[41] 



treat for us. Her white face and her white hair shine. 
The flowers on her cap are abloom as if it were mid 
summer. She herself is soft, stout, warm like the 
heated white-tiled stove. 

In this house there is no room to move around. 
Everywhere it is cluttered up with furniture and 
hangings, as though grandmother, in her constant fear 
of catching cold, were as much afraid of any bit of 
free space as of a draft. 

"Grandmother, it's a holiday today, Hanukkah!" 
Abrashke assails her at once. 

"What are you talking about? But even if it is 
Hanukkah, you shouldn't knock your grandmother 
down! May you be spared by the evil eye, you have 
grown recently!" And grandmother rocks on her 
short legs. 

Abrashke is frightened. What bad luck, if grand 
mother should be angry! 

"All the same, you're a good boy, Avreml! " Grand 
mother smiles. "Coming so early in the morning with 
the tidings! I was just going to ask grandfather. With 
out you I'd never have known, you little rascal! Well, 
first of all, go and kiss the mezuzah. Haven't your 
teachers told you to do that?" 

"Grandmother, and what about me?" I put in. "I 
want to kiss it too!" 

"Where are you pushing to, small fry? You're a 
girl, aren't you?" Abrashke shoves me away along 
with the cat, which is tangled up with my legs. 



He is lucky. He is a boy, and he can show off. Per 
haps it would really be better to be a cat instead of 
a short little girl whom he is always mocking. 

"Stop teasing the little one!" Suddenly grand 
mother puts her hands to her head as though re 
calling something. "You haven't caught cold, God 
forbid? Come, I'll give you something, Bashinke!" 

"Raspberries, grandma?" I run after her. I know 
that when grandmother says "a cold" she will hunt 
up a jar of raspberries that is stored away in her ward 
robe with all the other jams. 

"Here, Bashinke, take it with you," she says, "And 
tell mother to give you a glass of hot tea with rasp 
berries before you go to sleep. Tell her it's a remedy 
for everything and the best cure for a cold." 

"Grandma, where is grandpa?" my brother asks. 
"We don't see him." 

"Go in there he is, standing by the stove." 

Through the half-open door of the dining room we 
see, shining like a white mirror, a great white-tiled 
stove, and next to the stove, swaying like a black 
shadow, our grandfather. And we thought that he 
was still asleep! Asleep, indeed! It seems to me that 
ever since we last saw him it was on the Sabbath- 
he has been standing just that way next to the stove 
and has not even once lain down to sleep. He is wear 
ing the same coat, a long one, of thin black lustrous 
material, and full of wrinkles like his forehead. The 
same coat, summer and winter and under the coat 



his slight body vanishes, as though he had no body 
at all. 

His face is shining. His eyes are pensive. With one 
hand he is stroking a small hair in his beard, with the 
other he seems to be unraveling a knot in the air, and 
he sways. It looks as if he were interpreting something 
for himself from a book that is lying on the table, and 
moving the debated text from one side of his head 
to the other. 

He does not see the two of us. His spectacles have 
climbed up on his forehead, and his thick, bristling 
eyebrows conceal his eyes. His white beard falls like 
a pile of snow. And the patches of cheek that show 
from under his forelocks are also white. Single veins 
stand out red under his delicate skin, perhaps because 
they have been warmed up by the stove. 

We are afraid to go close to him. His shadow sways 
against the white tiles. I fancy that grandfather is 
standing far from us, with one foot in the other 
world. 

"Bashke, look!" My brother pulls my sleeve. 
"Look, the ten-kopek piece is lying on the table!" 

Dear grandfather! He has thought even of that! 
And I imagined that he thought only of the things 
of God! 

But grandfather still does not turn his head away 
from the window. The sun is shining and is reflected 
in his eyes, as though they had drawn in all the light 
of heaven. Now they seem to flash. In the window 



hangs the Hanukkah lamp of old, tarnished silver, 
with empty branches instead of candles. But grand 
father's eyes, like a lighted taper, kindle all the eight 
branches at once. 

"Grandpa!" We cannot wait while he seems so 
unaware of us and then we stop, frightened by the 
sound of our own voices. 

"Ha? What is it?" Grandfather wakes up suddenly 
as if from sleep. "Aige, I think someone has come in. 
Please go and see." 

"It's just Alta's children, Avreml and little Bashke!" 
grandmother calls to him from her room. 

Grandfather turns his white head toward us. Seeing 
us he smiles. His face crinkles up, and with this smile 
grandfather has changed, has become another man. 
His face has melted like warm wax. 

"And I thought" grandfather lets his glasses drop 
from his forehead and gazes at my brother from be 
hind them "I thought that Avreml is going to be bar- 
mizvah next year, God willing, and that he no longer 
thinks of Hanukkah money. Isn't that so, Avreml?" 
And grandfather lightly pinches his cheek. 

"Well, come over here," he goes on, "shall I test 
you? Tell me" his soft voice breaks "how far have 
you got in the chumash? You've been studying with 
the rebbe for several seasons." 

The ten-kopek coin gleams on the table. Abrashke's 
head turns. The silver piece tantalizes his eyes. It lies 
so near, quite near to him. He can almost touch it, 



stroke it with his hand. He is dying to see what is 
stamped on the other side of it will it be the same 
eagle as always, or not? 

Grandfather's voice hums in Abrashke's ears, but 
Abrashke's hand itches to spin the coin over the table 
at least once. The oilcloth is slippery, and the coin 
would fly like a top. It might even slide off the table, 
and then it would be gone. Then he would have to 
look for it in all the cracks of the floor! 

In his fright, Abrashke's round eyes pop out of 
his head. He says to himself that he must snatch the 
ten-kopek piece before grandfather starts questioning 
him and testing him about all the passages that he has 
learned and already forgotten. 

And what if grandfather should think of taking the 
chumash out of the bookcase, and of all things- 
should ask Abrashke to recite just as he has to do it in 
cheder with the rebbe? That way the whole day will 
go by! And it will get dark! And where will he get a 
driver and sleigh, where a horse? Who will wait for 
him? All the boys are already out riding, packed into 
the sleighs, and he 

Abrashke feels his heart sinking. He will fall asleep 
here, he thinks, together with grandfather, near the 
warm stove. 

Abrashke thrashes about, hot and restless, as though 
he instead of the firewood were burning inside the 
hot stove. It is heartbreaking to see him. His fingers 
tremble. His head seems swollen. And his eyes sparkle, 



as though the silver ten-kopek piece had got into 
them. 

"Ten kopeks!" Abrashke keeps saying to himself. 
And if he should get another ten kopeks from father, 
he would be able to ride all over town! What sleigh 
driver would not take him? He, Abrashke, needs only 
the silver coin in his hand. If he shows just one edge 
of it to Ivan the coachman, the man's eyes will pop 
out of his head. He will get excited, the knave he 
will try to persuade Abrashke that nothing can equal 
his horse, his sleigh. Hasn't he inherited them from a 
rich landowner? 

"In this sleigh of mine," Ivan will say, "there lies 
a black fur robe. Never mind if it looks like an old 
dead goat. The landowner's children used to cover 
themselves with the fur!" 

And as for his horse Ivan will even whistle with 
enthusiasm all one needs to do is to whip it well, and 
it will fly like an eagle! It's no ordinary horse the 
landowner's wife herself used to ride it. 

"And what about my bells? Don't they ring like 
all the church bells at once? Just sit down, and let my 
horse get started" Ivan's thick voice trumpets in my 
brother's ears. 

Abrashke cannot stand it any longer. He lunges 
forward, seizes the coin. 

"Eh, don't grab! Take your time. Why are you in 
such a hurry? You should be anxious to learn your 
bar-mizvah speech!" 



Abrashke raises his head. Who is speaking? Not 
Ivan! Grandfather's bony hand is resting on his 
tense fingers. 

"Baruch, give them their ten kopeks. It's a bit of 
joy for the children! Don't you see," grandmother 
says to grandfather, "his skin is burning! The boy 
cannot sit still And the little one is standing there al 
most in a daze!" 

Holding our breath, we run out of grandfather's 
warm little house, clutching the ten-kopek piece. 

My brother tears through the streets. The snow is 
actually burning under his feet. He does not stop 
twisting his hand; he seems to be trying to make the 
silver coin tinkle in his glove. 

One thought is drumming in his head: "Is there still 
a sleigh to be had? A horse?" 

I stop for a momentone of my galoshes has 
slipped off. 

"That's what happens to you when you start some 
thing with a girl! You're just a fool!" Abrashke yells 
at me instead of helping me. "Will you stop daw 
dling? First grandpa, and now you, with your ga 
loshes! All the sleighs will be taken!" 

"It isn't my fault! They're new galoshes and they 
fall off my feet." I want to hurt him too. And I fling 
at him: "Grandpa is surely angry at you because you 
wouldn't recite for him." 

"What else? Why are you bothering me? Instead, 



tell me whom we should ride with Ivan, or Berel the 
Crooked-legged? He limps on one leg, Berel does!" 

"Who can see whether he limps? He sits in one 
spot, and certainly his horse has straight legs!" 

"Why might not his horse have crooked legs too? 
I can believe anything about him, that scoundrel! 
Ha-ha-ha!" 

"Master! Avreml! Little miss!" The drivers catch 
sight of us. 

They know us. They are always standing at the 
corner of the street. Because of cold and boredom, 
they keep blowing into their hands and clapping them. 

"Got your Hanukkah money?" one calls out. 
"How much did they give you? Come, show me! 
Well then, climb in, little girl!" 

The drivers wrangle. One elderly driver he seems 
very cold blows a thick vapor out of his mouth, as 
though trying to warm himself that way. When he 
talks, his frozen goatee moves up and down like a 
hatchet chopping every word that leaves his lips. 
"Better come with me," he says. "Don't even think of 
him! Don't you see that his horse is an old jade like 
himself?" 

"He'll put ten horses like yours inside his chest any 
time!" the other shouts. "May the angel of death 
snatch you away! You" 

The drivers never stop reviling each other. 

"Come on, they're all trying to cheat you, master! 
You've always ridden with me! Just look, little lady, 

[H9] 



how warm you'll be under the black fur!" Ivan runs 
in front of all the sleighs and slides up almost against 
our feet. 

He looks like a sack all filled up, but he bends 
lightly to one side, and, just as though we were his 
former masters, he unbuttons his worn-out sheepskin 
rug, and in a trice we are in his sleigh. 

"Fie!" The other drivers spit. "What can you 
do about a devil like that!" 

Ivan snaps his whip. One swish of it through the 
air, and the horse begins to tremble. It lifts up its tail 
like a cat showered with cold water. 

"Giddap, you old nag, giddap!" Ivan becomes ex 
cited, he lifts himself from his seat. 

The little bells ring out and then do not stop 
tinkling. 

"Hup, hup!" goads Ivan. 

Yells and lashes fly, scald the horse's cold rump like 
boiling water. And the steaming horse, as though try 
ing to run away from Ivan, strains its body, heaves its 
flanks. Its own tail lashes it more violently than the 
whip. Its big legs bang against the shafts they seem 
to be trying to tear off their own skin. 

In the sleigh we lurch with the jolting of the 
horse. Now we sink in the snow, now we are tossed 
up high. There is no time to catch our breath. We are 
carried along as if we had wings. 

"Come on, cholera, giddap! Huh! Ha! Hup, hup!" 

Now Ivan is yelling like a madman. He whistles, 



cracks his whip, roars, lifts himself up, wriggles his 
rump. A mountain of snow falls from his back onto 
us. A cloud of snow tears by at our side, chases us 
from behind. 

Snow splashes the horse's muzzle. Its eyes are drip 
ping with snow. Snow blankets its head, its back. 
Snow blows out of its nostrils, a thick steam rises 
from its mouth. The horse, as though it were drunk, 
shakes its mane, shakes the bells. 

We swim behind it as in a current of water. On 
both sides the town flies by, one street blurs and tum 
bles into another. Thick snow whirls in the streets 
like flour spilling from sacks. Where are we? In a 
flash we have flown past the big city park. Only a 
moment ago it stood, full of trees, on a high hill 
and suddenly it is gone like a snowflake in the air. 
And where is our big church? Who could ever move 
it from its place? And now it has slid by, detached 
itself from the ground; from its white walls there 
came a gust of snow, its cross had barely time to flash 
its gold and pierce the sky. 

My cheeks are burning, stinging. I stretch out my 
hands, trying to snatch at some houses, streets. But 
everything runs away from me. Windows, shutters, 
signs, all are carried away by the wind, swallowed up 
by the snow. 

We are now far from the town, as if we had flown 
off into the air; I no longer see anything. The frost bites 
us. Snow glues up my eyes, stings my eyebrows. My 



head is cold. Snow has got into my hair my hair has 
turned hard, one could cut it with a knife. My neck 
is wet. My collar is full of snow. 

I stamp my feet. The fur blanket has long ago be 
come soaked with snow. It only makes me colder. 
My feet are like blocks of wood, there is no way of 
lifting them. I want to rouse Abrashke. What is the 
matter with him? 

The wind whistles; I no longer hear my brother. 
Only a minute ago he was neighing like the horse. 
Why is there no steam coming from his mouth any 
longer? My face burns. Are we being frozen? 
Mother, mother! Where is mother? Has she ran 
away into the sky too? She will scold: "Where are 
you? Where on earth have you gone off to?" 

"Whoa!" 

The sleigh suddenly stops, almost spilling us. 

"And where are the ten kopeks?" Ivan's gruff voice 
rouses us. 

His felt glove, thick as a bear's leg, thrusts itself 
before our eyes. He pulls the ten kopeks out of 
Abrashke's glove. His whip stuck under his belt, Ivan 
spits into one hand, into the other, tosses the coin as 
though weighing it, puts it between his teeth. 

"Real silver, strong as iron!" he booms out, laugh 
ing. 

"Ivan, where are we?" I ask. 

"You're home, little girl, home!" 

I turn around. True enough, the big church is 



standing behind us, as always. Its walls, its roof, its 
cross, have all come back from the sky. And the sky 
itself has closed up, driven off the clouds, A single 
stray little star shines from it. 

On the hill the big park has grown anew. Houses, 
shops, windows, everything is standing on its base 
again. 

We crawl out of the sleigh. Where have we come 
riding from? 

Ivan has brought us to our own big, broad street. 




THE SHOP 



A QUITE different world opens before me when I 
only just push at the heavy door that separates 
the shop from our apartment. 

It is a door entirely covered with tin. Instead of a 
latch it has a big key that is always in the lock. In 
the dark rear shop, into which I tumble first, I grope 
along the walls as though I were blind. Thick yellow 
sheets of paper rustle underfoot. 

Wrapped-up wall clocks rest on the floor here. 
Until they are hung on walls, they do not move; they 
lie quiet and soundless, as if buried alive. But the 
stuffy air of the dark chamber seems swollen with the 
voices that seep in from the shop. The voices crowd 
against the high wooden wall and recoil from it again. I 
stand behind it as in a prison, and listen to what is 
being said. I want to make out whose voice is talking. 
And if I catch mother's voice, I am content. 

But wait! Is her voice quiet, calm, or, God forbid, 
angry? Mother's voice will give me warning, tell me 
whether to go into the shop or not. 



Her high tones encourage me. I touch the curtain 
of the last door, which leads to the shop. I become 
dizzy at once because of the mirrors and glass. All 
the clocks are being wound in my ears. The shop is full 
of glitter on every side. The flashing of silver and 
gold blinds me like fire; it is reflected in the mirrors, 
roams over the glass drawers. It dazzles my eyes. 

Two large gas chandeliers bum high up under the 
ceiling, humming loudly; the sound becomes a moan 
of pain. Fire spatters from the close-netted caps on 
the burners that barely hold back the sparks. 

There are two high walls entirely lined from top 
to bottom with glass cupboards. The cupboards reach 
up to the ceiling and are so solidly built that they 
seem to have grown into it. Their glass doors slide 
easily back and forth. Through the glass one can 
clearly see all the objects on display, almost touch 
them with one's hand. 

On the shelves are goblets, wineglasses, sugar 
bowls, saucers, braided baskets, milk and water 
pitchers, boxes for etrogim, fruit bowls. Everything 
shines and glitters with a newly polished look. When 
ever I move, all the objects run after me in reflection. 
The fire of the lamps and the light of the silver cross 
each other. Now the silver drowns in a flash of the 
lamplight, now it re-emerges with an even sharper 
glitter. 

On the opposite wall there is another glass cup 
board. Behind its panes are objects not of silver but of 




white metal, and their gleam is much more modest, 
and quieter. 

In the center of the shop, on three sides, there rise, 
as if from the floor itself, three inner walls-long 
counters with drawers. They divide the shop into 
two sections. All laid out with glass, full of gold ob 
jects, they glitter like magical arks. Little stones of 
all colors, framed in gold rings, earrings, brooches, 
bracelets, flicker there like lighted matches. 



In this air full of fire it is quite impossible to see 
that the floor is dark. At the front, at the very feet of 
the customers, entire silver services shine through the 
glass. And so even the customers' black shoes glitter 
and catch reflections along with the silver. 

The third wall is dim even by day. Overgrown 
with long hanging clocks, it looks like a forest of dark 
trees. There are wall clocks of various sizes. Some 
have big, squat cases with thick hanging chains sup 
porting heavy copper weights. Other wall clocks 
have narrower, slimmer bodies. Their chains are 
lighter, more movable, with smaller weights attached. 
In the bellies of all of them pointed pendulums dangle 
like swords, swinging restlessly back and forth. 

Among the large wall clocks smaller ones are hid 
ing, and even tiny ones; one can see only the white 
dials, their round moon faces. They have no wooden 
bellies, and their chain legs move in the open, before 
everyone's eyes, up and down. 

The whole wall of clocks sighs and breathes heav 
ily. From each box come smothered groans, as though 
at every moment someone were being killed on the 
dark wall. 

Suddenly I begin to quake. One of the heavy 
clocks awakens, and, like an old man rousing, it 
utters such a groan that I look around quickly to see 
whether its body has fallen apart. 

Heavily it strikes the hours. My heart pounds with 
its heart. And I am glad when the minute hand moves 



away a bit from the hour hand, giving me time to 
catch my breath before the old thing utters another 
groan. 

Another clock acts as though it were blowing its 
nose, or hoarsely rending its throat in broken 
laughter. 

In contrast, the little clocks have high, thin little 
voices. They wail like children awakened in terror 
in the middle of the night. 

The clocks move, their pendulums swing, for days 
and nights on end. When do they rest? 

Suddenly several clocks together begin to chime. 
Do they do it on purpose, in order not to let me hear 
how each one sounds by itself? 

I turn my head from one clock to another. I am 
bewildered. I hear voices that seem to come straight 
from the earth. 

These are the little alarm clocks lying on the floor 
in cardboard boxes. Like clamoring brats they awaken 
the old wall clocks. 

I rush to twist their little heads in order to make 
them stop yelling. But I stop halfway. My heart 
melts. A gentle song rises on the air. I know that it is 
a music box that is singing. I quickly open its lid. The 
song flies out like a bird from its nest. In the box there 
surges a sea of little wires, springs, wheels. Like 
waves they lift tiny millstones, jump over them, 
quickly run down, swim in the melody as in the cur 
rent of a stream. Each little spring, each little wheel 



breaks into sound. They hum the melody till they 
lose their breath. 

I go quite close to the music box; I want to assure 
it that someone is listening, that it must not stop play 
ing. But suddenly the little wheels stop. I do not close 
the lid. I wait perhaps it will want to sing again. 

Sueh a warm world has risen from the dark one 
and spread over the whole shop! Even the wall clocks 
are holding their breath. 

Every night, before going to sleep, one of my 
brothers goes to have a look at the shop. My parents 
send him to see whether everything is in order, 
whether, God forbid, a burglar has not broken in. I 
too want to see how all the objects on display sleep 
there at night. 

As soon as the big key of the metal door creaks, 
I shudder. I am afraid to go there, even with my 
brother. What if the angel of death with all his devils 
were concealed there? 

But they have a little light. A small table lamp 
burns there overnight. The wick is twisted. The 
smoke of the smothered flame drags out our shadows, 
whirls them before my eyes. 

A smoky veil covers also the wall with the shelves 

of silver. Only here and there, a sleepy eye seems to 

open a carved flower sparkles, a raised ornament 

flickers; suddenly a full glow of silver light shines 

[160] 



forth, like the moon rolling out from behind the 
clouds. 

I am afraid to go closer to the wall of the clocks. 
They hang on black nails, as though eternally cruci 
fied. It seems to me that open graves sigh there. The 
clocks are barely moving, their pendulums drag like 
limping feet. The white dials with their black dots 
wink with faded eyes, like specters. 

I hear them from a distance and help them to sigh. 
It seems to me that they are calling me, that they are 
prodding me in the back. With a heavy heart I leave 
them. 

I see that in our apartment, in our dining room, 
there is also a wall clock, but it is enclosed inside a 
high, carved cabinet. One does not hear its heart 
pound, one does not see its outstretched legs. It strikes 
the hours with a muffled tone that has no spirit. 



[161] 



PURIM GIFTS 



A WHITE snow, a pale sun. With the early morn 
ing Purim has come. A thin frost has carved 
white horses with heroic riders on the window panes. 
A little wind brings the tidings: today is a holiday! 

My brother Abrashke and I have run to meet it. 
We received Purim money. The copper coins clinked 
in our hands. We ran to the meat market on the 
square. We found it already full of stir like a fair. 

The old, dilapidated tables were blanketed with 
white hole-riddled tablecloths, as with snow blown 
in. The tables were set as for a wedding. Women and 
children stamped around the tables, as the men do 
in shul during the ceremony of hakkaf ot. The tables 
were dazzling, bewitching. 

A whole world of little beings of frozen candy was 
spread on the tables. Little horses, sheep, birds, dolls, 
and cradles their red-yellow dots seemed to wink at 
us, to show that they were still alive, that they were 
not yet quite dead. Little golden fiddles looked as 
though they had fallen asleep while playing a last 



melody. Mordecais and Ahasueruses on horseback 
seemed to be raising themselves in the saddle. 

The cold sun occasionally cast his rays on all these 
dreamlike Purim gifts and hardly warmed their coats 
of sugar. Abrashke and I elbowed up close to the 
tables, as if we were trying to rescue the frozen toys 
with our own breath. We wanted to take them all 
with us. On the street here, wouldn't they be frozen 
to death? 

"Children, let's get on with it! Choose your pres 
ents and go home!" The freezing vendor interrupted 
our dreams. 

As though it were easy to choose! Our hearts 
pounded. We looked at the Purim toys, hoping that 
they themselves would tell us which of them wanted 
to go with us, which to remain. 

How could one let them go out of one's hands? 
And what should we take? A big horse or a small 
one? My friend Zlatke might think that in giving 
her the bigger horse I wanted to show off, yet she 
would be more pleased with it than with the smaller 
one. So I touched the little horse in front and in back. 

"Bashke, what are you doing? It's dangerous to 
touch it!" my brother teased me. 

I let go of the horse, as though I feared that it 
might bite me. My teeth were chattering, either from 
cold or from the temptation of the thought whisper 
ing to me that all these little horses and little violins 
were the sweetest of all sweets, and that it would feel 



good to be crunching them alive in one's month. 

"If yon wish, I'll deliver your Purim presents," said 
a tall, scrawny boy coming np to us. 

"Sure, yes come with us!" 

His round, sad eyes, the eyes of a much-beaten 
dog, drew us after him. And like a dog he ran in front 
of us. 

"What's your name?" we asked him. 

"Pinye." 

Pinye? That is a strange name, like a bird's, 

"Can you whistle?" 

At home we spread our Purim gifts on two plates, 
one plate for Abrashke and the other for me. 

The little sugar animals seemed to come back to 
life in the warm air. Their little cheeks began to 
glisten. Frightened, I blew on them, so that they 
should not melt from the heat. That would be the 
last straw that our presents should melt, fall apart 
in little bits. More than once we changed the plates, 
picked among the presents, sorted them. I clung 
particularly to the little candy violin. It nestled in 
my fingers, stroked them, like a toy bow, as if it were 
trying to play a melody on them. 

"And if I send the little violin to my friend, 
it will surely never come back to me," I thought, 
feeling a stab in my heart. 

But Pinye, the errand boy, was shuffling his feet, 
waiting for our presents. Trembling with emotion, 
we gazed for the last time on our plates, wrapped 



them each in a kerchief, and gathered together the 
comers. 

"Pinye, see, here are onr Purim gifts. But you 
mustn't run, mind you! Better walk slowly! You 
must not God forbid slip on the wet snow with the 
plates. And don't turn around! You might be pushed! 
What is the matter, are you asleep? Why do you look 
at us as in a dream? " And we shook the boy by his 
shoulders. 

Pinye started from his place and at once began to 
run. The plates shook in his hands. 

"Don't rush like that, Pinye! Have you no time? 
What's the hurry? Watch out, hold fast to the cor 
ners of the kerchiefs!" we shouted after him. 

Oh, he'll make trouble, that boy, I said to myself. 
He has such long legs! Our presents will tumble over 
on one another. And suppose an ear of the horse 
breaks off on the way, or the top of the curved little 
violin falls off? What will our friends think? That we 
sent them broken presents? 

"Where are you, Pinye?" 

But Pinye has vanished. 

Right now, I keep thinking, Pinye has turned into 
the little street where my friend Zlatke lives. The 
black latch of the door is lifted from inside, and from 
behind the door Zlatke appears, as though she had 
been waiting for the messenger. 

"Are the two for me?" And Zlatke stretches out 
both hands. 

[166] 



"No, this one is yours!" And Pinye probably con 
fuses our plates. 

Zlatke snatches the little plate from Pinye's hands 
and runs to her bedroom. Pinye remains standing 
there. 

In the kitchen, Zlatke's mother is busying herself. 
With a long iron fork she lifts a big black pot and 
pushes it into the oven. Pinye's tongue hangs out of 
his mouth. He wants to eat. The roasted meat and 
potatoes smell so good. 

"Zlatke, why does it take so long? Have you fallen 
asleep there, or what? Ai, what children get excited 
about! Going wild over nothing!" 

Zlatke's mother turns to the boy with a cry. "What 
are you standing for, you ninny? For the same money 
you can sit down!" 

Zlatke is somewhat fat, with short little legs, and 
she wears her hair in a long, heavy pigtail on her 
back. And she always walks so slowly that I get bored 
looking at her. Even her big eyes stare as if frozen 
in her face. Before she gets through with the Purim 
gifts, the Messiah himself might come. She probably 
examines my plate from all sides, touches the little 
horse and the golden lamb. She puts them to her nose, 
to her ears. 

Her long pigtail wiggles on her back as though it 
were helping her to think. She is unable to fix her 
attention on anything. And suppose Zlatke wants to 
keep the whole plate? 



Oh, why do I think up such false accusations? I 
shame myself. Probably Zlatke runs to the drawer 
where she keeps her own presents, spreads out her 
little horses and lambs, and compares them with mine. 

"She is taking the sweet little violin from my plate! " 
I think with pounding heart. 

And what will she put in its place? Oh, why 
doesn't the boy come back? He has vanished as 
though forever! I begin to question Abrashke: "Do 
you think Pinye has already been at my friend's?" 

But my brother teases me. He thinks that being 
older than I, and a boy to boot, he can make fun of 
me. So he bursts into laughter. 

Let him laugh, by all means! I know nevertheless 
that he too is waiting for Pinye, that he is dying to 
see what has remained on his plate, and what gifts for 
him have been added on it. To whom is he boasting? 
Don't I see that he keeps looking out of the window, 
watching for the return of our Pinye? 

"You know, Bashke," he says, "Pinye probably 
won't be back for at least an hour. You know that 
my friend Motke lives on the other side of the river. 
And by the time that dreamy Pinye crosses the 
bridge, we shall be falling asleep. How can you ex 
pect him not to stop to have a look at what is going 
on in the river? Perhaps the ice has begun to break!" 

And what if Abrashke is right? I am bursting with 
grief. 

"Pinye is capable of anything," I agree with my 
[168] 



brother. "That's all he has to do inspect the whole 
river! He won't even be back for the meal!" 

"Yon dumb cluck, you believe everything! I've 
just made that up!" My brother is now rolling with 
laughter. 

Suddenly he pushes me to one side and like a cat 
scrambles down all the stairs that lead to the kitchen. 
Pinye is knocking at the door. 

"Ah, you brats, why do you make so much noise?" 
the fat cook yells at us. "You idlers! All day long you 
roam about here you don't give me a chance to do 
anything. Out of the kitchen!" 

We drag Pinye into the house. First we look into 
his eyes, then into the plates. He has probably seen 
what kind of presents have been sent us in exchange 
for ours. 

Well, the little violin must be gone! I read it in 
Pinye's sad eyes. I open the kerchief on my plate. 
Yes, she did take the pretty little violin! And I have 
no other violin, and I don't need the doll she has given 
me. I've got two like it. Abrashke has given me his. 
And that's what made her fuss for a whole hour! In 
anger I bite my lips. 

What? He is laughing again, Abrashke, and even 
that silly Pinye too! I can't look at them any more. 

Abrashke is lucky. He can afford to be in a good 
mood. Motke has put a big horse on his plate. In his 
enthusiasm, Abrashke neighs like a real horse. 

Weeping, I run to the kitchen. 



"Why do you make such a long face?" The cook 
throws the words at me while chopping onions. 
"What is the matter, did yon get a bad Purim gift?" 
And she keeps on babbling in her usual fashion, as 
though she were chopping the onions with her 
tongue, and she spatters me with wet crumbs. "What 
a misfortune that is! May you have no greater grief 
until your hundred-and-twentieth year! Silly girl, 
you'll surely forget about it before your wedding!" 

Whether because of the onions or because of her 
words, my eyes begin actually to drop tears. 

"Here, take your little Haman-tash." And the cook 
squeezes into my hands a triangular cake, bursting 
with heat and with the poppyseed with which it 
is stuffed. 

My hands at once become wet and warm as though 
somebody had kissed them. 

"You see, Bashutke, there was no reason for cry 
ing!" Sasha cheers me with her smile. "You know 
what? Just wait a while when I'm through with my 
work, I'll run out for a minute and exchange your 
doll for a violin." 

"Darling Sasha!" I creep into her skirts, stuffed 
underneath like a whole wardrobe, and wipe my eyes 
on her sleeves. 

"That's enough, Bashutke, go now, let me work! 
It will be mealtime soon! Why do you keep spinning 
around me, you crazy girl?" And she pushes me away 
gently. 

[170] 



In the dark rear shop I bump into something hard. 
Aha, a woven basket! This must be mother's Purim 
gifts prepared for our uncles and aunts. A basket 
packed full of good things! How can mother send 
them away so improvidently? The basket will have 
bottles of red and white wine, bottles of sweet syrups, 
big pears, wooden boxes with cigars heaped on one 
another like blocks; there will be cans of sprats and 
sardines, and amidst all this a new red tablecloth with 
painted flowers. 

Mother has been busy in the shop, as always, and 
probably has forgotten her Purim presents. Doesn't 
she even think of them? The basket will soon be car 
ried away! And isn't she waiting at all for the presents 
that she will get? 

I imagine my good Aunt Rachel's delight over 
mother's presents: "Lord of the Universe! So many 
good things! And all that for me! Ah, Alta, you'll 
spoil me altogether!" 

My aunt's weak heart is choked with joy. She sniffs 
at the basket; she seems instantly to be made drunk 
by all the good smells, for she closes her eyes. Then 
she awakens as if from a dream. She feels the table 
cloth, lifts it in the air, strokes it. She might be saying 
a benediction: "Thank you, Altinke! May God in 
heaven grant you many healthful and happy years! 
How could you guess so truly? I really needed a new 
tablecloth for Pesach, to honor my guests." 

And suddenly my aunt fancies that a speck of dust 



has fallen on the new tablecloth. She blows away the 
speck, and fearing that the tablecloth may become 
soiled before the Passover, she carefully lays it in its 
folds. 

How many baskets with presents have been carried 
through the streets from one house to another! And 
the things they were filled with! The scrawny woman 
messengers were hardly able to hold them up. 

"Is Itchke at home?" 

I suddenly hear an unfamiliar voice in the kitchen. 
In the doorway stands a little old Jewish woman, 
wrapped in a big shawl. In her hands she holds a 
yellowed candy horse as one holds a little live chicken. 

"Bashinke, gut yom-tov!" And she smiles at me 
with her thin lips. "Is Itchke in? There's a Purim 
present for him!" 

She lifts the little horse. She wants to show me how 
big and beautiful her present is. And indeed, the little 
horse almost seems to be bigger and fatter than she is. 

A strange woman, like someone just out of a mad 
house. Was she really once my brother Itchke's 
nurse? Now he is tall and big how could he have had 
this little woman for a nurse? 

My brother has for many years been living abroad, 
studying medicine, but the old woman comes every 
Purim to bring him a gift. The dried-up nurse always 
explains that she wants to have a look at her Itchke. 

Mother presses a silver coin into her hand and tells 



her In a low voice, as though fearing to frighten her, 
that Itchke is not at home, and that she can take back 
her little horse: the present may come in handy next 
year, God willing. And actually the little horse grows 
yellower and yellower every year. 

One day the old woman found Itchke at home. But 
when she saw in the doorway a grown-up young 
man, she was so frightened that she ran out of the 
kitchen as if someone were chasing her. She even 
forgot to hand him the little horse. 

No one stopped her. And since then she has not 
returned. 

Mother distributes gifts among the people she em 
ploys in the house and in the shop. Something glistens 
in her fingers. A pair of golden earrings and a ring 
stick out from their tissue paperpresents for the 
maids. At every holiday they receive golden things. 
And they are happy to think that they are collecting 
jewelry, although they have never married. 

I look at our bookkeeper. Usually quiet, wordless, 
he now becomes talkative and his mustache quivers. 
His hands stroke a new silver watch. 

Huneh, the clerk, quietly folds a white silken ker 
chief that mother has given him for his young wife. 

Unlike him, Rose, the salesgirl, fills the shop with 
her loud enthusiasm, turns about before the mirror, 
boasts to everyone of her beautiful medallion, her 
Purim present. The cashier has received some money. 



Although she is busy all day long with a box full of 
money, she has found herself short of funds. 

The watchmaker receives some bottles of wine he 
has enough watches in his table drawer. The faces of 
all of them are radiant, as though a wedding were 
being celebrated in the shop. 

"Close the shop! It will soon be dinnertime!" 
Father's voice breaks into the noisy gathering. 



[174] 



THE BOOK OF ESTHER 



FTER the heavy frosts, winter suddenly withdraws. 
The snow caves in. The ice loses its luster. 
Winds arrive with new odors from far-off places and 
drive away the cold. 

With the winds, Purim pushes closer. It comes 
knocking at our door, 

One night, a tall scrawny Jew comes in and stands 
in the kitchen doorway, like an exhausted messenger 
from afar. His face is buried under hair. His black 
beard is all tangled. Apparently no wind was able to 
blow through its thick tufts. His forelocks, like little 
braids, reach down from under his cap to fall into his 
beard. His eyebrows, thick, bristling, overhang his 
deep, sunken little eyes like a gabled roof. 

Panting, the newcomer stands in the doorway. His 
beard breathes with him. His big nose, curved like a 
horn, blows at his mustache, at his beard, as though 
trying to air them at least a little bit. 

"Look, Reb Laib is here!" the stranger says. 

The cook turns to him. 

"Oi, woe is me, and my Haman-tashen are still in 



the oven!" She quickly wipes her hands, throws down 
her greasy apron, and puts on a pious holiday face. 

The man in the doorway is not a beggar who has 
come to ask for alms. It is Reb Laib in the flesh, the 
megillah reader, who has entered the kitchen. 

Every Purim he comes to read the Book of Esther 
to us in our house. That is to say, he reads it to 
mother, to me, and to the cook. For the shop is open, 
and mother has no time to go to listen to the reading 
of the Book of Esther in shul. 

"Why are you standing in the doorway, Reb 
Laib?" Havah is happy because she can exchange a 
word with a pious Jew and show him that she is pious 
too. "Come in! The mistress is waiting for you. Well, 
thank God, we have lived to see Purim! May the All- 
Highest bestow a miracle every year, may he thus 
save us from all our sufferings!" 

She suddenly sobs. The visitor, embarrassed, blinks 
his eyes. Perhaps he is late? 

Havah grows more voluble. For a moment it seems 
to her that the reader has come for her sake, to tell 
her a good long story. "Sit down, Reb Laib!" she 
says. "All the time on one's feet! One is no longer 
a human being that way!" 

She pushes up a chair for him. Her own feet are 
always swollen, and she thinks only of sitting down. 

The man remains standing as though she were not 
addressing him. He does not even look at her. His 
eyes are lowered, and he has caught a hair of his beard 



in his mouth and is chewing it. His long, thin legs are 
bent under him. He stands leaning on them as on a 
stick. 

The whole year round, no one sees him. On the eve 
of Purim he looks so tired out that he seems to have 
roamed all over the world from Purim to Purim. Does 
he tell everyone about the miracle of Purim, or does 
he look for new miracles in order to be able to re 
count them to us along with the story of Esther? 

He takes a pinch of snuff, begins to cough, draws 
his red handkerchief from his pocket, wipes his 
mouth, and as though he were closing it with his 
fingers, he finally removes his hand. 

"May you be spared from the evil eye, Bashinke," 
he says, winking at me, "you've grown a good deal 
during the year! Have you got your rattle? This year 
you'll be strong enough to outshout Hainan all by 
yourself, eh?" With every word he speaks his mus 
tache jumps up and his long yellow teeth stick out of 
his mouth, like the yellow keys of an old piano. 

I run to mother in the shop, calling her: "Mother, 
mother, come quickly! The man has come to read the 
Book of Esther to us!" 

"Really? Is it as late as that?" She immediately 
leaves all the hubbub of the shop. "Children, keep an 
eye on the unpacked merchandise! I'll be back soon. 
Huneh, see to it that no child leaves the shop, will 
you?" She quickly throws instructions to the em 
ployees and hurries out. 

[^77] 



I run after her. "Mother, do yon know where the 
rattle is? The man is asking for it. I'm supposed to 
outshout Haman!" 

"Ah, let me alone! You're always bothering me 
with questions. If you can't get your rattle, you can 
stamp your feet." 

Upon seeing mother, the visitor stirs from his place. 
"Good evening, good evening, Altai" And he wags 
his head. 

"Good evening, good evening, come in, Reb Laib! 
It must be late, isn't it? I suppose they've finished re 
citing the book at the shul, eh?" 

Instead of answering, he smiles shyly into his beard 
and goes by us with stooped shoulders, in order not 
to touch us, God forbid. As soon as he has passed^ us, 
he advances through the apartment with huge strides, 
as though he were in the street. 

"Bashinke, here is your rattle!" Havah pants into 
my ear and pushes a wooden Purim rattle into my 
hand. 

"But it's last year's," I protest. "It's no good. It 
doesn't rattle any more!" 

"May all my enemies be stricken as hard as you can 
strike with this to deafen Haman! You'll see, Reb 
Laib will tell you the same thing." 

The megillah reader has stopped at the bookcase; 
he opens its two doors wide and thrusts in his hand, 
long as a shovel. Without looking he grasps from out 
of some corner the scroll that he tucked away there a 



year ago. The quiet bookcase rocks, and several books 
are scattered to one side. As though in anger, they 
give off a little cloud of dust. 

Reb Laib catches up the scroll and carries it like 
a treasure. The white silken cover of the scroll, its 
embroidered golden letters, its crowns, cast a sunny 
light on the reader's dark face. Even his beard be 
comes transparent. Revived, cheered, he goes to the 
table. He does not even cast a glance at us. He re 
moves his cap. His black velvet skullcap adds more 
luster to him. On his shoulders his short talis spreads 
like a pair of white wings. 

"Silence!" He bangs with his hand. He probably 
imagines that he is about to recite in a shul packed 
full of people. 

"Silence!" He bangs the table again, although the 
three of us are standing there in utter quiet. 

He gathers his strength. He bows to the scroll, 
kisses it, removes its cover. And like Samson pushing 
at the pillars of the temple, he leans on the handles 
of the scroll and unrolls it. A musty smell comes from 
the yellow scroll as he unfurls it wide. A little heap 
of black lines arrayed in equal rows like stairs stands 
up on the table. Reb Laib raises his head, cranes his 
long, gooselike neck. 

"Ho-ho! Ah-ah!" He makes a gargling sound and 
clears his voice. 

The chandelier shines in his face. He stares into the 
light. As though he had absorbed its fire, his face 

[180] 



lights up. He sways to one side, to the other, and 
then, in a high, chanting voice, he sings out the first 
benedictions of the scroll. All three of us repeat them 
aloud. 

The reader, once set going, does not stop. Har 
nessed to the table, leaning on the scroll, he rocks his 
body as if someone were prodding him. The stiff 
parchment rustles in his hands. A noise arises around 
him. 

I imagine that the entire array of lines has begun to 
move and that they are whirling as on wheels. 

Here is King Ahasuerus coming down from his 
castle. A whole host of soldiers is thronging after him; 
they ride over the lines, trample upon the letters the 
words might be little pebbles under the horses' feet. 

The reader hurries, recites at a fast pace. In one 
breath he takes a whole heap of the letters into his 
mouth. Ahasuerus and his soldiers are pursuing him; 
each word is a step he gains on them. 

He crumples the pages, tears out the lines, and 
tosses them high on his throbbing voice. Each line is 
drawn out with the melody as though it were threaded 
on a string. Now he drags it upward, now he tosses it 
out and brings it back all curled up. Then once again 
he swallows a few lines, and the same melody drags 
them up and down. He seems to veil the whole story 
in a trembling cloud. 

Only from time to time does he force his voice; 
perhaps he hopes that thus he can push Ahasuerus 

[181] 



himself. We listen to him with bated breath. 1 try to 
see the king riding by and the moment when Mor- 
decai arrives on his white horse. 

Mother holds her translated text in. her hand, and 
as if she were checking the reader, keeps nodding her 
head. Havah the cook, huddling in the doorway, sighs 
and snaps her fingers. "It's true, everything he says is 
true!" her lips whisper. 

I look into the reader's mouth. I cannot keep up 
with his fast-moving tongue, which knocks like a little 
hammer against his teeth. I cannot reach the place in 
the text at which he is reciting. Now he is on this side 
of a page, and then the page is already rolled up, and 
his eyes have jumped to the next page. 

I can hardly wait for the word Haman to come. 
God forbid that I should miss it! For I must outshout 
Haman all alone. The rattle is sweating in my hands- 
God knows whether it will rattle properly. 

I move closer to the scroll. I touch its silver han 
dles. They bar me off from the yellow parchment like 
two big pillars. Just such pillars, I think to myself, 
must be standing at the entrance of the king's castle. 
They will light up the path for Esther. In a moment 
she will come forth in her long dress, with her long, 
golden hair. And in fact the lines are now more 
widely spaced; a wide square opens up. Now her 
radiant face appears. 

Suddenly Reb Laib gives me a push. He probably 
wants to push me out of the queen's way. I look at 



him angrily. But his neck is craned tip to the very 
ceiling. Like a thunderclap, his voice crashes out: 
"Haman, Hainan, the son of Hammedatha! " 

Mother and Havah stamp their feet. 

Why did I have to get lost in a dream about Esther 
at just this point! I have hardly had a chance to shake 
my Haman rattle. Annoyed, I bang it on the table. 

Reb Laib catches his breath and plunges into the 
story again. I no longer take my eyes off him. 

"Haman, Haman!" He nods to mehe seems to be 
trying to indicate to me that Haman has run out of 
the scroll and that I am to hit him, kill him on the spot. 

I bang niy rattle on the table, I stamp my feet, I 
yell. If Haman should get away from me, mother or 
Havah must catch him. 

"Haman! Haman!" the reader now cries out with 
each minute, as though not one but a thousand Ha- 
rnans had crept out of the scroll 

The din of our voices becomes fearful. The reader 
rolls the scroll noisily. Page groans after page. What 
if we don't manage to kill Haman? Will he strike us 
through with his drawn sword? Where are you, 
Esther? Hurry, hurry! Perform your miracle! 

And actually, Reb Laib stops shouting, stops sway 
ing, as though Esther were shining on him from the 
newly unrolled page of the scroll. He softens his 
voice, adorns the chant as though with delicate flow 
ers, and bows, bows, as if he were trying to stroke 
Esther's robe. 

[183] 



"Mother, thank God, Esther has come!" I whisper 
to mother* 

All of us feel relief in our hearts. Mother utters a 
sigh. Havah's eyes are raisedshe seems to be prais 
ing God for having shown his mercy in time. 

And under the reader's chant Esther walks down 
the stairs of spaced lines. Her long train glistens, 
spreads over the empty place on which there is not a 
single letter but only white ribbons of light, as though 
white candles had been lit on the scroll in honor of 
the holiday. 

"Amen! Amen!" we chant with the reader. 

The melody has run out, and Reb Laib is silent. 
His hands remain resting on the scroll. I am standing 
and waiting perhaps something more will issue from 
his closed mouth, from his beard, which has suddenly 
turned black. But there is only silence, as though some 
thing had died. 

The reader quietly kisses the scroll on both its sides, 
just as if they were cheeks, and brings its handles 
tightly together. The scroll becomes old, thin. Reb 
Laib takes it to the bookcase. We accompany it with 
our eyes. We know that we shall not see it again for 
a whole year. 

Coming back from the bookcase, the reader sud 
denly stops and looks at us with his big eyes, and says: 
"So only you three have heard me?" 

It seemed to him that he had recited the megillah 
to the whole world. 



THE PURIM PLAYERS 



THROUGH the whole day of Purim our house is in 
an uproar. Up until the hour of the feast there is a 
continual wrapping up and carrying away of gifts. 
Here a basket is being filled with good things; there 
packages sent by relatives are being unwrapped. 

The old woman porter has no strength left, "Be 
lieve me," she wails, "I have lost the use of my hands 
and feet!" Sighing deeply, she places on the table the 
basket she has brought, cracks her knuckles, and sits 
down. 

u Dvoshe, you'll rest for a whole year," says the 
cook. u Go, there is another basket to be taken but 
hurry, for it will be time for the dinner soon!" The 
cook does not permit her to catch her breath. 

In the dining room the chandelier is lighted. The 
samovar is brought in, gleaming and bubbling more 
than ever. 

Having closed the shop, mother runs into the apart 
ment. " Where is Dvoshe?" she asks. Then she recalls 
suddenly. "Has she taken the gifts to everyone? To 
Aunt Zipe? And my elder sister-in-law? Do you re- 



member the bad experience we had with her last year? 
Think well you haven't forgotten anyone?' 5 

The old porter the same woman serves each year- 
knows mother's relatives by heart. "With God's help, 
Aha," she says, "I've taken the gifts to all, and all 
were happy with your gifts, and wished yon even 
more than they have put in the baskets!" 

"Well, then, Dvoshe, here is your own Purim gift 
have a good holiday!" And mother squeezes a few 
coins into her hand. 

"Thanks, Altinke! May you too have a good and 
cheerful holiday. Let us live in good health and good 
luck to see the next Purim, God willing!" 

Father sits at the table in his long silken coat. His 
beard is brushed, each hair of it is fluffed. His face 
is shining under the sparkling chandelier light. From 
its flame, little balls of light scatter over the table 
cloth. Wherever they jump, a bit of the table is illu 
mined. On one side mother's tall candles flare up. The 
holiday table is prepared for the feast. 

The shames comes in. The gabbai, and a neighbor 
whose house is on the courtyard, follow him. They 
come to wish father a happy holiday. Father asks 
them all to table: "Sit down, Reb Efraim! Sit down, 
Reb David! Take a glass of tea while we wait for 
dinner!" 

So they sit and drink tea as though it were wine. 
With each glass they grow more lively, and after 
each glass they melt with heat and pleasure. 

[186] 



On the table, at father's hand, there lies ready a little 
heap of silver and copper coins. For each beggar who 
enters the house, father shoves tip a little mound of 
change. 

"A merry holiday to you, Reb Shmul Noah! A gut 
yom-tov, baleboste!" each of them says, bowing his 
head. 

The door never closes. We might as well be sitting 
in the street with the people walking by us. All of the 
poor people of the town pass through our house. 

A tall man with a black beard comes up to father 
and stands before him. I imagine that King Ahasuerus 
in person has come: at any moment all of us will rise 
from our seats, even father, and yield him the place 
at the head of the table. But the man goes away, not 
at all like a king, but with lowered head. 

The heap of money grows smaller and smaller. 
Who else is to come? For whom is father waiting? 

Suddenly the glasses on the table quiver. A noise 
conies from the kitchen, as though people were fight 
ing there, as though plates and silver were dropping 
on the floor. There is jostling, laughter. Feet are 
stamping. Men are whistling, laughing. Father and 
the guests exchange glances. 

"These must be the Purim players!" the shames 
whispers. 

The door flies open with a bang, and a whole com 
pany of people stumbles in tall ones, small ones, fat 
ones, thin ones. They seem to be not only pushing in 

[is?] 




from the door but also creeping out from the walls, 
from every corner. They have burst open all the 
doors and windows. 

From everywhere people are popping out. One has 
[ iBS ] 



a monstrous nose, another a pair of swollen cheeks. 
And there is a head like a bine sugar cone. And no 
feet are to be seen. 

Where are their feet? And they do not stand in one 
place. One climbs on top of another, nudges him in 
the side, trips him, falls down himself, dragging the 
other, and the two roll over. We burst into laughter. 

"Sha!" Out of the hurlyburly comes a tall fellow 
with a red cardboard nose that he holds with his hand 
and tries to paste to his face. Probably his own nose 
is even uglier and that is why he conceals it! 

"Gut yom-tov, Yehudim! Gut yom-tov, my hosts! 
Here comes the merry Purirn, the red nose! 5 ' And he 
suddenly begins to whistle through his big nostrils. 
Father and the guests nod their heads. 

"Gut yom-tov!" all the Purim players repeat in a 
chant. Red Nose becomes excited. 

"Company of musicians!" he commands. "Why 
have you stopped? Let us all make merry, dance!" 
And he begins to sing, stamp his feet, clap his hands; 
his boots thump like hammers on the floor, 

All of them whirl around the room. They all seem 
drunk; they tumble, they turn somersaults. Each 
wants to distinguish himself, show off as many tricks 
as possible. 

"Where are you, Mendl the Drum!" one loud 
voice outshouts all the rest. 

A fat stuffed figure of a drum comes forward. This 
is Mendl. It is as though he had no legs. Behind him 

[189] 



trots a pair of legs that do not belong to him. A long 
hand comes out from one side and bangs the drum 
on its belly; from behind his ears a pair of brass cym 
bals creep out and crash against his head, slapping 
his cheeks, 

Now a trumpet booms, now a horn blows, now a 
pipe whistles, and noise bursts out of all of them. 

They seem to be whirling right over my head. I no 
longer know where to look first. I fancy that they are 
crying out in anger at the man with the red nose. He 
pushes them all around, does not let anyone play out 
his own trick. 

"Quiet!" he yells. "Here comes King Ahasueras!" 

And he himself steps forward, takes off his red 
nose, and puts a golden crown on his head. Al 
ways he! 

"Perhaps he'll also play Esther, with his big boots?" 
the others murmur. 

One of the company cuts across his path. He is rid 
ing on a white stick. 

"I am Mordecai!" he cries, and at this point an 
other actor, wearing a pointed tin head, shakes the 
little bells attached to his cap; they tinkle in every 
one's ears. 

It is as though bells hung not only on his cap, but 
even on his feet, on his whole body. Father cannot 
stand it any longer; he holds his ears and then wipes 
his eyes, which are wet from laughter. 

"Ha-ha-ha!" laughs the fat gabbai, and his belly 



shakes. "He has come a bit too early, he has stopped 
the king instead of Haman!" 

"Enough, enough!" Father stops them all "You 
surely still have to get around to all the rest of the 
town!" His hand scrapes across the table. 

Red Nose leaps nimbly he is King Ahasuerus and 
snatches all the money that flies off the table. The 
company becomes even more excited. Now they are 
fighting in earnest. Father's voice separates them. 
"Alta, have some drinks served!" he calls. 

A glass of brandy is poured for each. Each swal 
lows it in one gulp, almost with the glass. Something 
like a fire bursts out in them. They revel, they dance. 
Eyes sparkle, the drum booms, the pipes whistle, the 
cymbals clash, the feet stamp, the bells tinkle, tinkle. 
They call, they tug, they pull all of us away. My 
head swims. I rush toward them, and all of a sudden 
what's that? 

The bells sound less and less, they are quieter and 
quieter farther and farther away, as if I myself were 
far from them. I turn around. The Purim players are 
not there they have all thronged out through the 
door. All the sounds run after them now one, now 
another. They trickle away. 

Where are the Purim players? They seem to have 
vanished, as though they had never been. In our house 
it is silent, much more silent than before. Only the 
chandelier sputters fire, tries to keep up the holiday. 

Drinks are served. The table is set. New guests 



arrive. I look at the door to see whether the Purim 
players are not coming back, "Father," I ask, "where 
are the Purim players? Where have they run to? Are 
they dancing somewhere? Or are they now walking 
in the streets like other people?" 

Father looks around him, smiling with the guests. 
"Is it time to start dinner, eh?" he calls out. 

They all rise from their seats. I follow them, and 
in my ears the bells are still tinkling. 



[19*] 



DINNERTIME 



U O ASHA? ^ ava k kave y ou f a ^ en asleep in the 
Kj kitchen, or what?" cries Israel from the dining 
room. "Don't you hear that I'm home?" 

He always grumbles, my brother Israel. He is stub 
born. He is angry when he is slighted, when the best 
portion is given to another. He sits at the table, toys 
for a moment with his fork over his plate, then sud 
denly shoves it aside. "Look at the piece of meat 
youVe given me!" he says. "Just bare bones, nothing 
to eat on it!" 

A murmur comes from the kitchen, closer and 
closer, along with Havah's heavy steps. She pours on 
my brother a hail of words: "Why do you all set 
upon me? Why are you trying to shorten my years? 
Everyone sucks my blood!" 

Havah shakes all over her body, Her face is red as 
a beet. She is not afraid of the children of the house 
hold. And she yells: "You're not an only son here! 
Look at this aristocrat! Is it my fault that you come 
later than anyone? It's always, 'Havah, Havah, I 
want a veal schnitzel! Havah, I want a sweet-sour 



kaikele! Havah, I want roasted potatoes with prunes!' 
One wants a pancakeof all things another wants 
meat, still another milk dishes!" 

Havah apes each of us. She grimaces and spits. 
"And if you don't satisfy them! They tear things out 
of my hands, the brats! I have a hard time keeping 
something for the master and mistress!" She clutches 
her heart; her chest rises and falls. Suddenly she stops, 
compresses her fat lips, and makes a face. "And per 
haps you think that I've eaten all the meat? God is 
my witness!" She holds her belly. "As though I could 
eat anything with my sick stomach," she wails, and 
squeezes out a tear. "A whole household is persecut 
ing me!" she goes on. "Toiling like a horse! If at 
least someone had pity on me!" 

"All right, all right, we've heard enough from 
you!" My brother Israel is not moved by her tears. 
"Better go and attend to your things in the kitchen 
and bring me another piece of meat," he says, pushing 
his plate into her hands. "And don't forget," he calls 
after her, "change my kasha and honey, it's cold 
now!" 

On weekdays each of us eats separately. Sitting 
alone at table, one does not know what to do with 
oneself. For whole days my brothers go about idly. 
But each of them wants to show the maids that he too 
is important, just as busy as father and mother, and 
that like them he has no time to lose while being 
served. 



And It is true that mother has no time for eating. 
She is in the shop from morning on. She waits till 
father and all the help come back from dinner, and 
when it becomes a little quieter in the shop, she 
snatches a moment to run to the apartment and take 
a bit of food. 

It is only on an occasional happy day, a day with 
out grief, that mother does not begrudge herself a 
meal on time. Usually she comes back to the apart 
ment late, care-ridden and toilworn. And then it is 
better not to bother her. 

She runs through the rear shop where the book 
keeper sits. She does not even look at him seems to 
feel ashamed that she goes to sit at table in the middle 
of the day. 

"Sasha, is there anything to eat?" she calls from a 
distance. "Hurry, hurry, put everything on the table! 
But do it quickly, I have no time!" 

The harried maid quickly clears a corner of the 
table for mother, puts bread, salt, and a spoon and a 
fork before her. While mother washes and dries her 
hands, she goads the maid: "My God, why does 
everything take so long with you? Sasha, where have 
you vanished to? Have the children had their dinner? 
Has Bashke eaten anything?" She suddenly remem 
bers me. 

About the boys, she is sure that they will not let 
themselves be cheated by the cook. As for me, always 



a pale little girl, and her youngest child moreover, she 
always thinks that I have to be forcibly fed. 

Everything is now on the table, and Sasha pushes 
the dish of soup toward mother. "It's a pity, barinke," 
Sasha says with regret. "The meat will get cold by 
the time you've finished your soup!" 

Mother sits on the edge of the chair listening to the 
distant voices coming from the shop. "You silly 
woman," she chides, "don't make my head turn! My 
brain is bursting without anything from you. Be 
quiet for a moment, I can hear that someone has come 
to the shop." 

Now mother is ready to run away, and hurriedly 
swallows the bite of food in her mouth. 

"Baleboste, the balebos is asking for you!" says the 
panting shop boy, running in. 

Mother jumps up from her seat at once. The maid 
looks at her sadly, and asks: "Shall I serve your food 
in the shop, barinke?" 

I am alone at the table. There is no one who could 
report to mother that I don't eat. I say to the maid, 
who keeps placing one dish after another on the table: 
"Sasha, I don't want to eat!" 

"Bashutke, God be with you! What are you say 
ing? But it's so tasty! Don't you smell it? Just try it, 
you'll see that it will make all your limbs melt! Bash- 
inke, what's the matter with you? You're not sick, 
God forbid? Just wait, I'll call Havah." 



She knows that I am more afraid of Havah than of 
her. In comes the cook, who always smells of onion, 

"Why don't yon want to eat?" she assails me at 
once. "Ah, please, don't make such a fuss! When will 
you be sensible and eat like everyone else? You don't 
eat, and that's why you're so pale, and then your 
mother will again accuse me of not giving you enough 
to eat!" 

"All right, all right, I'll eat only stop bothering 
me!" I bite off a piece of meat only to make her go 
away. I cannot stand her smell of onion and dish 
water. 

"O me! Lord of the Universe! Even a tiny child 
turns against me!" Havah shrugs her shoulders, wipes 
her perpetually teary eyes with her greasy apron, and 
goes back to the kitchen. 

I sit alone again. I swallow a bite, I look at the door 
hoping that someone, no matter who, will come in. 
And I count how many days remain before the Sab 
bath. On the Sabbath all the empty chairs will move 
toward the table, and father, mother, my brothers 
will sit on them. 

Suddenly the door opens and Abrashke flies in like 
a wind. "You dumb cluck, why are you sitting here 
like a sleeping devil? See, there's the ice cream ven 
dor!" And he pushes me to the window. 

We stand petrified. In the courtyard a tall goy is 
walking about like a living white mountain. He looks 



as if he were blanketed with snow. He wears a loose 
white shirt. On his head, like another head, a high 
tub sways, wrapped in white cloth. The goy's face 
cannot be seen. It looks as though his own head were 
enveloped in cold towels because it hurt him. 

The goy strides with his long, strong legs, tram 
pling on the snow. He takes a step. His black, shining 
boots dance, and the tub on his head keeps time. Sud 
denly he comes to a halt opposite our window. Proba 
bly he has caught sight of us. And he cranes his neck 
and crows like a cock before rain: "I-i-ice crea-eam! 
Ice crea-eam!" 

Even the window begins to shake. Abrashke jumps 
from the window to the door and back, and falls upon 
me: "Why are you standing here? Go ask mother for 
five kopeks! The goy refuses to give us any more 
credit!" 

"Mother is busy, I'm afraid/' 

"You idiot, go at least and order the glasses!" 

He himself runs to the kitchen, charges the cook 
from behind, and pushes her to the window to see for 
herself that the ice cream man is there* "Havah" 
and he keeps shaking her "you must give us five 
kopeks. You see that the ice cream man has come." 

"O me, Lord of the Universe! He is killing me, the 
bandit!" And she pushes my brother away. "Are you 
crazy, out of your mind? An ague, that's what I'll 
give you! What do you mean, eating ice cream now, 
you trefniak! You've just had dinner!" 



"Eh, can you call that meat? I've forgotten it long 
ago!" 

Havah acts as though she had been stang by a fly. 
"What else?" she shouts. "The poor neglected chil 
dren! It breaks one's heart to look at you! You're 
starving to death with me! You stuff yourself with 
three cutlets and" 

"Oh, stop arguing with me! You probably will 
keep it up till tomorrow! And meanwhile the ice 
cream man will go away" 

"A great dignitary he is, your ice cream man! A 
curse on him! Leading Jewish children astray! Where 
is the rebbe? It's just your luck that he isn't here, or 
he'd give you a sound spanking, so that all the tref ice 
would melt in you" 

"I-i-i-ice crea-eam! I-i-ce crea-eam!" the goy keeps 
on crying in the courtyard. 

Abrashke squirms what can he contrive next? 

"The goy's ice cream is not made with milk!" he 
says. Then he tries to cajole the cook. "Havah, I'll 
help you mix the dough for the bread, you won't 
have to beg me! I will bring you the pickles, the 
sauerkraut from the cellar" 

"Thank you a lot! Why do you hang on to me like 
a tick? Where shall I get the money?" 

Abrashke feels that Havah's voice has softened. 
"What?" he says, "You haven't five kopeks left from 
marketing? Why are you so sparing with mother's 
money?" 

[200] 



u So you think mother's money is trash? That it's to 
be wasted on the goy? And how will I give my ac 
counting at night?" 

"I-i-ce crea-eam! I4-ce crea-eam!" The vendor's 
voice comes into the kitchen through the window. 

Havah is bewildered, as though she were besieged 
from all sides. "Ai, what a brat! How can I get rid of 
him? He takes all one's strength! Here, rascal!" She 
grumbles while she rummages under her dress to draw 
out the purse. "Eating suet," she snorts. "Ordinary 
suet!" 



[201] 



HUNTING FOR GHOMETZ 



PASSOVER night is approaching, nearer and nearer. 
Our apartment is all stir and bustle. The very air 
throbs. 

"Have you scrubbed here? And over there, in that 
corner? See to it that the shelves are wiped clean. 
Here are Passover towels!" Havah goads everyone 
she can lay her hands on. "And you, Sasha," she cries 
to the gentile maid, "go to all the black years with 
your chometz! Take it to the cellar, you can eat it 
there with Ivan!" 

Havah gathers the last of the chometz dishes, crams 
them all into a dark closet. These are things she uses 
all year round, and now she does not even want to 
look at them, she almost kicks them away. Suddenly 
she stops, shuddering: a bit of flour gleams from the 
black tin pan in which she usually bakes cakes and 
rolls. "Where is your father?" she says. "If he were to 
come, he'd burn even this bit of flour." 

And she stores the pan away in the closet, so that 
it should no longer offend her eyes. She scratches her 
hands in trying to remove bits of red radish that re- 

Coa] 



fuse to get out of the scraper. "What a nuisance, this 
chornetz! There's no way of getting rid of it. Chil 
dren, didn't the rebbe tell you to turn out your pock 
ets? What are you waiting for? Soon your father will 
come to burn the chometz," 

Havah proceeds to turn out our pockets herself. 

"Oi, don't tickle me!" one of us protests. "You'll 
tear off my pockets with your hunting for bread 
crumbs!" 

It is not easy to clean out one's pockets in one mo 
ment. All year round they are stuffed with everything 
that can be found in our house and in the street. So 
now my brothers are watching they wonder whose 
pockets will have the most scraps sticking in the 
corners. 

"Hush, father is coming!" 

And the pockets are quickly turned in again. 

Father has come to hunt for chometz. Havah's 
heart sinks. Father's face is serious, as though some 
thing had been lost in the house and he would have 
to look for it. 

His black hat casts a shadow on him. Someone 
hands him a lighted candle. The little flame shines on 
his pale face. 

"Have you got a feather broom?" he says in a low 
voice. 

All the children follow him in silence. Everyone's 
breath is audible. Father, with the candle and the 
feather broom in one hand, and a wooden spoon in 



the other, brushes all the window ledges, the corners, 
the shelves, although they have just been scrubbed. 
He rummages in the bookcase, searches among the 
gemaras, searches as though someone were trying to 
conceal something from him. Suddenly he comes 
upon a cramb of chometz that despite the cleaning 
has remained hidden in a corner, or that Havah has 
put there by design, so that father should not have 
to make too long a search. His eyes flash the flame of 
the candle blazes up too as though he had found a 
treasure. 

Next morning father gathers up all the crumbs he 
has found, places them in a paper bag, and carries them 
to the stove. The fire leaps on the bag. Father's eyes 
light up with the fire that devours the scraps of 
chometz. 

"Thank God," Havah says, sighing, "we'll have a 
kosher Passover!" 



[204] 



PASSOVER EVE 



THE first to be drawn into the Passover turmoil 
is Havah, our fat cook. 

Since the day after Purim she has been going about 
in a daze. The ordinary weekdays have died away for 
her. She has only one thought in her head to have a 
kosher Passover. 

Distraught, in the early morning, she comes run 
ning to the dining room. "Children, you've dawdled 
enough!" she cries, "Finish your breakfast in a hurry, 
and get out of here! The painters have come!" 

"The painters, already? Do you know when it will 
be Passover? Before Passover, even the Messiah may 
come!" my brothers grumble. 

"And the place has got to be painted for the Mes 
siah!" the cook says, aping them. "Instead of chatter 
ing, help me to move the cabinets." 

"The cabinets! Only that? Just a little thing! It's 
incredible what she can think up, that Havah! Who 
can budge those cabinets?" 

All together we heave against the clothespress. It 
budges. Inside it, black long coats are mingled with 

[205] 



father's fur coat and mother's fox cape. The long 
hairs of the fur sting and tickle the other garments. 
We push the cabinet, it creaks and groans with each 
shove; its feet scrape the floor and leave a white mark 
behind them. 

"Oi, enough, stop!" one of my brothers cries out. 
"You see, Havah, what you've done? One foot has 
bent. How shall we be able to put the cabinet back 
now?" 

"O me, Lord of the Universe! What do you want 
of me? After all, the wall has got to be papered!" 

"Perhaps you want to go to the rebbe and consult 
him as to whether we should not push away the 
whole wall?" my brothers taunt her. 

"I've been as much of a wiseacre as you for a long 
time! Don't worry I've got more brains in my heel 
than all of you together in your heads!" says Havah, 
getting angry. "Go to the rebbe, of all things! The 
question I should really ask him is how such heathen 
brats happen to be born into a Jewish family!" 

"There she goes Havah is angry already! Let's go! " 
The brothers pull each other by the sleeve. "Come 
on, let's go to see how they're baking matzah in 



town." 



Suddenly Havah turns to the open door and calls 
out: "Reb Yidl, Reb Nahman, come in! You'll begin 
with the little room next to the dining room." 

As though out of a mist two white shadows emerge; 
apparently they have just been waiting for Havah's 

[206] 



call Two painters in white from top to toe. Every 
thing about them their shoes, hair, cheeks, and eye 
browsis spattered with white flecks as if with snow- 
flakes. One has a ladder slung over his back, and in his 
hand he holds a bucket full of paint. The other can 
hardly manage with both his hands to hold a pack of 
long rolls of wallpaper that look like bound-up scrolls. 

The painters, as soon as they have come through 
the doorway, tramp through the rooms. We push 
away tables and chairs, clear a path for them a com 
pany of soldiers might be marching in with them. 
Soon they are in possession of the whole apartment. 
One climbs up the ladder and scrapes the cornices, 
the other clambers up on the table and scrubs the 
ceiling with a coarse brush. Bits of plaster fall on his 
head. 

"Little girl, want to taste some lime?" the younger 
painter asks, smiling down at me from his ladder. 

His short little beard, stippled with lime, seems 
pasted to his white lips. The painters make a jolly 
time of it. Now one, now the other, bursts out laugh 
ing. They sing, whistle, stir the buckets, dip in the 
brushes; paint drips and spatters. 

Suddenly one of them begins to coat the ceiling, 
back and forth. The other joins him, and both peck 
at the ceiling with their brushes as birds would with 
their beaks. 

The painters attack the walls as though trying to 
tear them down. The old wallpaper drops with a 

[207] 



rustle, dragging dried pieces of plaster after it. The 
peeled walls stand naked, scratched up and ugly. 
There is paint around my feet. The torn paper is scat 
tered on the floor, and the painted flowers on it get 
wet. 

The painters jump over the debris. They cut and 
paste new lengths of wallpaper with new little flow 
ers. The paper crumples up, blisters, refuses to stick 
to the wall. Then the painters give it a slap with a wet 
cloth, and the swollen paper spreads up to the ceiling. 

The little room, freshly painted and papered, shines 
as though decorated to welcome a bridal couple. But 
for Havah it is still not kosher enough. She covers the 
walls with white sheets, as if she were hanging talesim 
on them. Even on the floor she spreads a sheet. Now, 
it seems to me, one could bring the holy ark in there. 

The first thing to be brought in are baskets 
of matzah two taU, broad baskets, wrapped in sheets. 
It seems to me that each matzah is wrapped in a sheet. 
Havah, all in a dither, runs ahead, showing the way. 
"Slowly stop here," she warns. "Here are a few 
stairs. Lower the baskets gently, slowly, so that the 
matzah will not break God forbid." 

She runs around the baskets, touches them, whis 
pers as though saying a blessing: "Well, with the 
matzah a bit of Passover has already come into the 
house." 

A third man, with a long, handsome beard, brings 
in a small basket of matzah shemurah for father. He 



holds the basket in both arms, in the manner in which 
he would carry a Torah. 

The man does not say a word. He notices a ceiling 
hook for a chandelier, and hangs the basket on it, so 
that no one should be able to breathe with a chometz 
breath on the special matzah. The basket is so com 
pletely swathed in white wrappings that the woven 
straw cannot be seen from any side. 

From now on no one is allowed to enter the little 
room. Only Havah, in her felt slippers, may fuss 
around in there. She becomes the ruler of the little 
room and all the members of the family submit with 
out a word. 

When Havah goes through the apartment in a 
white apron and with a white kerchief on her head, 
it is known that she is going to the little room. Her 
face is tense, as though she were going about some 
world-shaking business. 

We sneak up to the door, but she locks herself in. 
The latch clicks shut before our noses. We sit down on 
the little flight of steps leading to the room and hear a 
pounding of the wooden pestle. 

"Havah!" we beg her through the keyhole. "Let us 
in! We'll help you pound matzah!" 

The pestle pounds and pounds as if she were 
pounding on our heads. "Havah, we swear to you, 
our hands are clean. We have just washed!" 

The pestle pounds more rapidly. Perhaps she does 



not hear HS. So we bang on the door latch at every 
thump of the pestle. 

"Havah, why don't you let us also pound a little 
with the pestle?" 

Suddenly the door flies open. We tumble back, 
almost rolling down the steps. In the doorway, like a 
storm cloud, looms the angry cook. She is unrecog 
nizable. She is covered with flour; she could actually 
just have come out of a mill. 

"Why do you bother me, all of you? Let me alone, 
you brats! What do you want to pollute even my 
Passover, you good-for-nothings?" She is panting and 
her breath seems white with flour. "Of all thingsto 
let you in to pound matzah with chometz hands! Are 
you too sick to wait till the holiday? Out of here!" 
She bellows at us and flour blows out of her nostrils. 
"Don't you dare to come near the baskets!" 

She has vented her anger and returns to the little 
room. The latch snaps to with a bang. Again we press 
up to the door, put our ears to the keyhole. Now we 
hear something like the splash of a gentle waterfall 
dragging a mountain of sand after it. 

"Havah, let us sift the matzah flour a little. Havah!" 
The door flies open and she sticks out her head. 
"Will you stop or not? Will you let go of the door?" 
she yells. 

A big sieve full of scraps of unground matzah rocks 
against her stomach. The flour drops from the sieve 
in a thin rain. It is as though the flour were coming 

[211] 



out of Havah. One of my brothers turns over the 
sieve. 

"Oi, 7011 rascal!' 5 Havah flares up. "May your 
hands dry up! You Tatar soul!" 

She raises her hand, but stops, recalling that she 
is holding a Passover sieve with it. "Oi, my wretched 
years!" She begins to sob. "Lord of the Universe, 
even without this I don't know how to get on with all 
my work! Why are you pestering me? Who has 
asked you to come here?" 

"But we want to help you." 

"Never mind what you want! What sort of help 
would you be? And what makes you all of a sudden 
so attached to me? Bosom friends! Let's see which of 
us will get his way. Let anyone try to come near to 
this room, and I'll" 

An odd woman! Cursing all the time. When Havah 
gets excited it is better not to try to stop her. She 
might give one a couple of blows of such sort that 
and she might tell the rebbe, too. She knows that 
both the rebbe and father will side with her Passover 
must be kosher. So we let her alone. 

She cools off and trudges back to the kitchen. At 
every step she leaves behind a white print of flour, 
like the tracks of an animal on snow. Soon we hear 
her coming back. Bending under the load, she carries 
on her back a keg full of beets. The keg sways, the beet 
liquor splashes, red drops trickle down on her path. 

Havah toils hard. Her thick feet are swollen. Who 



can help her? In her eyes everyone is tref . No one is 
allowed to touch anything. 

"Havah, let us at least taste some beet liquor! It 
will be easier for you to carry it." We run after her. 

She shakes her head. Her face turns from red to 
black. Her eyes are like sacks full of wet ashes. One 
squeeze, and ready tears will drop out of them. "Oi!" 
She cannot restrain herself; she sighs involuntarily. 
"Oi, my feet, they're killing me!" 

Before she reaches the little room, Havah suddenly 
drops the keg. She stands there in a daze, making signs 
with her hands to show us that we must not come 
near the keg. 

"Go, say you're sorry!" 

"No, you go first, you'll do it better." My broth 
ers urge each other. 

Havah wrings her hands. "Who knows what state 
your hands are in," she wails. "Probably full of 
chometz!" 

"Who? What? It's a long time since we have had 
anything to eat!" 

And the keg is snatched from the floor. Havah 
sobs. If she could, she would make us kosher on the 
spot. "My God," she splutters, "those children! All 
they think of is to be feeding, to gobble up food! " 

Then the little Passover room is filled with delight 
ful goodies; it excites us and allures us. 
Why should Havah alone taste all the good things 



there? We begrudge her this. But Havah, like a cat, 
is on the alert are we not trying to get in there? She 
fears to leave the little room alone. Perhaps she even 
sleeps there at night! 

When we children gather in a little circle and 
whisper among ourselves, Havah at once looms up 
near us. "What are you doing here?" she asks. "What 
are you up to?" 

"Nothing, we're just standing." 

"Why are you standing in one place? You're surely 
going to go somewhere?" 

"Not anywhere! Where should we be going?" 

She mutters something, grumbling, and goes to see 
what is happening in the little room. Every day some 
thing is carried in there, now Passover sugar, now salt, 
or nuts, or prunes, or almonds. Linen sacks stand in 
all its corners. Havah seems to take pleasure in gather 
ing together all these good things just to spite us and 
tease us. 

A strange woman! On the very first day of Pass 
over she always stuff s us so much that we hold our 
bellies. But now she torments our souls. And every 
day it is the same story. 

Abrashke hangs around the door, goes up to it, 
runs away again. "Bashke," he reports, "I think they've 
brought raisins today!" 

"No, I can smell prunes!" 

Havah catches us red-handed. "What are you 
sniffing here for?" she asks. 

C4l 



"Can't we even sniff?" 

"No, go wipe your noses, somewhere in a corner. 
What good is it to leave you here? You'll surely spare 
me the trouble of cooking something for the holi 
day!" 

Now she starts on the task of purifying the pots 
and pans. Every day one or another of the copper 
pots vanishes from the kitchen. 

All year long, all the copper pans and skillets stand 
arrayed on the upper shelf like generals on parade; 
they shine and glisten and cast fiery glances down 
ward. Before Passover they have become tarnished, 
and Havah takes them down from the shelves by their 
black, smoked-up handles and drags them into a cor 
ner. Even the old Sabbath jug and the worn-out 
samovar into which not even a drop of water is put 
any longer she has these made kosher in the same 
way as the samovar that seethes and boils days on end. 
Perhaps a speck of chometz will spatter out of them? 

The vessels are made kosher by being lined inside 
with a new skin. Havah carries them to the little 
room, wraps each of them separately in a sheet. All 
these sheets seem to blow a little trembling breeze 
through the rest of the apartment. 

"Bashinke, you're a big girl now, here is the key, 
go look over the dish closet," mother says. 

"I think that last year a few wineglasses were 



broken." Havah now orders us around outside the 
little room. 

A special Passover closet is built into a wall in the 
dining room. Throughout the year the closet is 
locked. And one forgets that it is actually a closet. I 
open its doors. There is a whiff of an old odor. The 
locked-up plates, goblets, glasses awaken. 

"What is missing, a wineglass, a cup?" 

I climb up on a chair, stick my head into all the 
three compartments. I count the cups- will there be 
enough of them for everyone? I figure it out, as 
though we were already sitting at table, each in his 
place. 

The dish closet sparkles. On all sides it holds glass 
and china, smooth, etched with gold. There is a shelf 
with cups. I am dazzled by all the glasses. Thick ones, 
thin ones, tall ones, small onesthey look at one an 
other, reflecting each other like mirrors. 

At one side there are red and blue Bohemian gob 
lets; they stand as though in deep thought, in a world 
of their own. The smell of last year's wine has not yet 
evaporated from them. 

Taller by a head than all of them, there stands, like 
an emperor, the cup of Elijah the Prophet. I touch it 
hesitantly. Every Passover I tremble lest it should 
burst with all the wine that is poured into it. Even 
when it is empty it sparkles with red lights like drops 
of wine. I fancy that I am sitting on a tree on which 
red and blue exotic birds are singing, and pecking with 



their beaks. The broad red bottles add more flame. 
Inside their red glass even plain water will turn red 
as blood. 

What will happen when all the bottles and cups are 
put on the seder table, full of wine? The white table 
cloth will light up. It will glow like a conflagration. 

My weary eyes pass to another shelf. There stands 
a broad soup tureen with red flowers painted on it. 
The tureen is heavy; it is impossible to lift it. Now I 
understand why Havah's hands break under the load 
when she brings to mother the tureen full of soup 
with plump dumplings bobbing in it like children's 
bellies. 

Next to the tureen are the plates, a whole shopful 
of plates! I pick out the small ones that are used as 
guest plates. To offer the refreshments is my task. I 
must plan on which plates I shall put preserves, on 
which the cookies, and on which the almonds. In the 
center of each plate there is a painted apple or pear. 
They strike my eyes, smell like real fruit. They con 
fuse my calculations. 

Suddenly I notice that at one side there stands, as 
if embarrassed, a milk pitcher with a broken-off 
handle. I look around there is no other pitcher. If I 
go to the shop and tell mother that we must buy a 
new pitcher, she will reprimand me: "Why are you 
making my head spin with your pitcher? Here we 
toil like horses to earn a penny, and you in the house 
keep stealing and breaking things!" 



Perhaps it is better not to tell mother. Where shall 
I get a blue pitcher like that to go with the blue sugar 
bowl? 

When I go into the china shop I get lost there. 

The shop tinkles with all the glassware on its 
shelves. I look at myself in all the glasses. In one I see 
half of my face; here my nose is stretched out, there 
it is flattened. Beside me is the owner, a tall, stout 
man. Through his black coat one cannot see the glass 
ware. He moves lightly among his glasses, touches 
them with his eyes. From time to time he clicks his 
finger against a little glass. Does he do this to make 
sure that his merchandise is whole, or just to admire 
it, to show it off to me? 

The little glass he touches gives off a tinkling note, 
like a voice on the air. The tinkle runs through the 
whole shop, and the vessels begin to vibrate. The 
proprietor removes his finger. The tinkle hides some 
where in a corner and is silenced. Only the steps of 
both of us can be heard. 

I forget what I have come to buy. Havah has asked 
me to bring her something for the kitchen. 

"Look," the shopkeeper whispers in my ear. "See 
the new liqueur glasses? They've just arrived. Pretty, 
aren't they?" He throws this in incidentally, and my 
head spins even more than before. 

The delicate little glasses beckon to me, like tender 
flowers. One puff of wind could make them slide 



down from the shelf. They tease me with their sharp 
edges. I want to put them to my cheeks, my mouth. 

Havah's voice is humming in my ears: "Liqueur 
glasses again? What for, for whom? There isn't even 
room to store them away. But for me you've forgot 
ten to buy a couple of plain dishes. Why do we need 
such a liqueur glass?" And Havah raises it to the light. 
"Look, it will melt in water! How many such glasses 
have just crushed in my hands between the coarse 
towels?" 

"But they're so pretty! I did not have the heart to 
leave them in the shop." 

Let them scold me! These won't be the only super 
fluous things in our house! 



THE SEDER 



FROM early morning on I study the mah-nishtanah. 
Since I am the youngest child, it is I who must 
ask father the four questions* 

"Ai! Every year you make the same mistakes!" 
one of my brothers scolds me. 

"And why are there the same questions every 
year?" 

It is an ordeal for him to teach me to recite the 
four questions. In my head not four but forty ques 
tions are thronging but who would try to ask ques 
tions of father! I am chided all year round: "You 
clumsy fool, why do you keep asking questions all 
the time!" 

But father is not here, so I can ask him: "Father, 
why do you become an emperor all of a sudden for 
the seder? Why is it that as soon as the first day of 
the half-holidays comes, you're no longer king, and 
our whole kingdom is gone? Father, why doesn't 
Elijah the Prophet sit beside you during the seder? 
He surely could be an emperor, for his cup is the 

[220] 



largest, the most beautiful. Father, why does his cup 
remain untouched in the middle of the table? Why 
doesn't he come at least for the recital of the plagues? 
Why doesn't he eat with us, and why do we open 
the door to call him only after supper? Father, why 
does he promise us each year, 'Next year in Jerusalem,' 
while he himself hides in the dark of night? Why, 
why?" 

"Why are you turning in circles, you sleepy 
head?" my brother berates me. "Here is your line, 
repeat it after me." 

Once again, from the beginning of the page to the 
end, I repeat the four questions aloud. 

Our apartment is in a turmoil. And I walk around 
slowly, as though I were carrying a pitcher full of 
questions on my head. I whisper them in a low voice. 
I am afraid that they may splash out from my 
memory. 

The day goes by. There are odors of Passover 
foods, coming in, going out. Havah flies like a wind 
from the kitchen to the dining room and back. Every 
minute she stops. She keeps counting on her fingers. 

"Charoset " and she bends one finger. "Stuffed 
necks" and she bends another finger. "The eggs are 
boiled. What else? Where Is Sasha?" she cries out 
suddenly. "Just when she is needed, she isn't here. 
Seder or no seder it's all the same to her. Bashinke, 
go and get her. She has probably gone to the cellar 
with Ivan. Their supper is ready." And Havah spits 



to one side, as though it made her sick to her stomach 
just to think of their chometz. 

I run out and do not recognize our cellar. Its black 
walls shine. Sasha has emptied it so completely that 
it has become big and spacious. There is no rubbish. 
It no longer smells of kerosene, or of the mold of 
sauerkraut and pickles. The barrels are stored behind 
the wood. In the middle of the cellar a bit of a dining 
room has been cleared for the week of Passover. 
Here Sasha sits on a block of wood; she sits like a 
baleboste, and beside her, on another block, sits Ivan 
the janitor. A little tin lamp shines above their heads. 
It stands out a little from the wall; the wall is wet, 
but the chimney is so highly polished that the flame 
is fresh and cheerful. It bends sidewise, flickers on 
Sasha's white dress trailing on the bare ground. Her 
table is full of food. She stuffs her cheeks and does 
not stop laughing. Ivan, black-bearded his sheepskin 
makes him look like a bear keeps wiping his wet 
mustache. 

"Ah, Bashutke, do you want a bite of chometz?" 
And he laughs coarsely. 

"Sasha!" And I turn my back to him. "Havah is 
calling you! Everyone has come, and the seder will 
begin soon!" 

I pull her by the sleeve; she ought not to be in the 
cellar alone with the drunken Ivan. She picks up her 
skirts, takes them in her hand, splashes a last laugh in 
Ivan's face, and runs out of the cellar along with me. 

[223] 



"Is it really true, Bashutke, that everyone Is there? 
Hi-hi-hi! Come quicker!" The stairs bend under 
Sasha's feet. 

Upstairs in the dining room the holiday is in full 
swing. The table stretches from one wall to the other 
a white seder table in the silent light of red cups. A 
gleaming tablecloth stabs one's eyes. Candelabras 
shine. Tall white candles, still unlighted, quiver in 
the air. Even the ceiling shines, reflecting the polished 
chains of the chandelier. Each mound of matzah 
shemurah is wrapped in a napkin that looks like a f our- 
tasseled talis-koton. Big white-covered pillows stick up 
in the chairs with embarrassment, puff at the matzah. 
The solemn bindings of the haggadahs gleam with 
their golden letters. 

First mother comes in wearing her holiday dress. 
Her face shines. With her hair fluffed up she looks 
taller. Her dress is wide, long, trimmed with lace, 
buttons, ribbons; it trails on the floor, swishes, fills 
the whole room with its rustle. She goes to the 
candles, lights them, encircles them broadly with her 
two hands, as though blessing the whole table to 
gether with the candles. 

It is now warm and light, as though not only 
mother's seven candles were lighted, but hundreds of 
candles all at once. Their warm fire caresses the cold 
gleam of the tablecloth, even as they themselves have 
just been caressed by mother's warm hands. 

In the homes of the neighbors in our courtyard the 

[224] 



candies have also been lighted. The lights of ail the 
people's candles cross one another. They seem to 
splash glowing gold. They are reflected in the win 
dows, illumine the table; they play on the em 
broidered flowers of the tablecloth, on the bottles of 
wine that stand waiting. They redden the red cups. 

Flame after flame licks the white table. It is not 
yet quite ready. It is being set. No one questions 
whether the table can bear up under ail the things 
that are on it. 

"Havah, have you peeled the eggs? Where is the 
salted water?" Mother bustles around the table; she 
wants to survey its whole length with her eyes, to 
see whether anything is lacking. "Hand me another 
pillow. I've quite forgotten that there will be an 
other guest. Put on a new pillow case." 

A couple of new pillows are spread. The chairs, 
like pregnant women, tilt their bellies upward. 

"Mother, who is coming? How many of us will 
there be for the seder?" 

"Ah," she says, waving her hand, "who would 
count them? After all, it's a holiday!" And then 
"Quiet, they're coming from shul." 

The murmur of an unfamiliar voice is heard. A 
guest comes in. "Gut yom-tov! How are you?" he 
says to mother. "Are these your boys? Are they 
bar-mitzvah?" 

And each has his cheeks pinched. 

The first comer is a distant relative of father's, a 

C5l 



peddler in neighboring little towns. He knows that 
to my father a relative is a sacred guest. So he has 
invited himself to our seder and behaves as though he 
were in his own home. He hums a tune, walks around, 
blows his nose loudly, moralizes, gives advice. To 
every new guest who comes he is the first to offer 
a broad welcome. 

Now there is a noisy crowd, all waiting for father. 
To while away the time they tell each other stories, 
exchange jokes. "What are you studying now, 
Bashinke? Do you know Russian well?" someone 
asks me. 

"Have you good marks?" my brother and my 
sister who have come from afar suddenly question 
me. 

I look at them as though they too were strangers. 
I do not see them the whole year round. The brother 
is studying abroad. The sister lives in another city. 
This year she has brought her two little children. 
They crawl over everyone's knees, and especially if 
someone has long legs they beg him to give them 
"a ride." 

All are merry. Only one old bachelor's eyes are 
sad, pensive. He looks at the boys at play. He recalls 
that he too once had a father and mother, a home of 
his own. And he moves over into a corner, like a 
little boy. 

"Gut yoni-tov!" Three little soldiers, all dressed 



up for Passover, enter and stand in a row. The hub 
bub in the room has lured them in. 

"Quiet, father is coming!" 

The turmoil ends abruptly. 

I do not recognize father at once. A new father! 
In the doorway stands a white king, wrapped in white 
from top to toe. He is lost in his broad white silken 
cloak. The white silk shimmers, swells in folds. They 
are held up by the thick belt. The sleeves hang down 
like wings, long and wide, covering the hands and 
the fingers. A white silken skullcap glistens on his 
white hair. The whiteness makes him look broader 
and stouter. There is a special radiance in his face. 
A white fragrance comes from him. If father should 
wave his arm, his sleeves would lift him like wings. 
I look into his face. After all, he is an emperor today. 

"Gut yom-tov!" father says. 

"Gut yom-tov! " we all answer. 

The seder begins. 

Father occupies the head of the table by himself. 
Against his two fluff ed-up pillows he really sits like 
an emperor on a throne. Following after him, the 
whole company pushes to the table. They jostle one 
another, shove the chairs, crowd to the table. Others, 
on their big pillows, sit as though raised on high, 
Father is the first to remove the napkin from his seder 
setting, and casts a sharp glance over the things ar 
ranged before him. Mother's eyes stop has anything 



been forgotten? Under his yellow matzah shemurah, 
sticking out, like bits of moss from an old roof, 
are branches of spice, a little mound of maror, a 
roasted stuffed neck, a hardboiled egg. The other 
seder settings, arranged like father's, are uncovered too. 

"Arke! You'll give me all of your bitter herbs, 
won't you?" Abrashke suddenly cries across the table 
to his elder brother. 

"Ah, you lubber, you're interested in only one 
thing! Holiday or no holiday, all that's on your mind 
is food!" 

"And you why are you barking like a dog on a 
holiday? After all, it's bitter herbs I'm asking for!" 

"You're ready to stuff yourself even with bitter 
horseradish! Do you think I don't know you! Ha- 
ha!" 

"Quiet!" father chides them. "What kind of up 
roar is this? Pour wine into the cups! Serve them to 
the guests!" 

Bottles of wine pass from hand to hand. The guests 
snatch them in turn from each other. The wine bub 
bles, splashes on the tablecloth. 

"It's good wine, indeed!" Someone has had time 
to swallow a drop. "May I have luck as good as the 
wine is sweet!" 

"Ah, ah!" says another. "Elijah the Prophet's cup!" 

Father nods. Mother throws in: "Take wine from 
this bottle! It is a better one!" 

A bottle is tipped; Elijah the Prophet's tall red cup, 

[228] 



which a minute ago was standing silent, pensive, is 
filled to the brim. 

The wine begins to foam. I am dizzy from the 
strong wine smell that comes from the cups. Sud 
denly it is as though a wind were blowing from the 
opened haggadahs, stirred up by the fluttering of 
pages. All heads are bent over the books. The first 
benedictions are pronounced. 

I sit in my accustomed place, squeezed in between 
father and mother. Because of father's pillow, my 
corner is more cramped than usual. I feel hot and 
choked. My head is heavy from the wine. The pil 
lows lure me, I want to put my head on their soft 
down. But I know that soon, after a few phrases, 
father will bend over toward me, as though the four 
questions were being addressed not by me to him, 
but by him to me. Now he is beckoning to me: 
"Come, the questions!" 

Suddenly there is silence. Everyone looks at me. 
I hide my face in the haggadah. My head whirls to 
gether with the letters. I move my finger on the page, 
I want to straighten out the lines. I swallow my 
breath, I am startled by niy own voice: "Where 
fore-" 

Father prompts me in a low voice. It seems to me 
that at the other end of the table they are choking 
with laughter. I get snarled up even more. I crawl 
from one line to the next, I mix up my questions. Yet 
I have memorized them so well, and I had so many 



things to ask! I have no sooner spoken the last word 
than a shout rises. Relieved, they have all turned to 
the haggadah. 

The company is like something that has started off 
on wheels. Each recites for himself, tries to go faster 
than another. One tries to catch up with the other, to 
drown his neighbor's voice, to push him with his own 
voice. 

The voices echo back from the windows, clamber 
up the walls, awaken the portrait of the old Rabbi 
Shneurson that has hung in our house for years. The 
rabbi looks down with his green eyes and listens to 
each voice as if he were testing everyone. On the 
other wall, the portrait of the aged Rabbi Mendele 
cannot remain quiet either. Pensive, wrapped in a 
white cloak, and with his long white beard, he comes 
down from the frame as though he had been called to 
the reading. The bare walls prick up their ears, the 
ceiling comes down, listening to the haggadah; it has 
to carry each word upward. 

Page after page, the words pour out like sand in the 
desert. I am tired from looking at everyone. Where 
are we? 

My brothers race ahead as if they were in harness. 
"You lout, what are you reciting?" Suddenly a 
non-Hebrew word resounds. "You've skipped sev 
eral pages!" This is Mendl chiding Abrashke. 

Whom is he going to cheat? And why all the haste? 
Little mounds of letters and lines stand up, run up and 



down as though on stairs. I lose my way in my hag- 
gadah. I touch its yellowed pages. At one place I find 
a wine stain, at another a piece of last year's matzah. 
Then suddenly I come to a page with a picture repre 
senting a seder table, with emaciated faces around it. 

I feel an ache in my heart. Here they are, our 
grandfathers, our dearest grandmothers. How weary, 
how dried up they are! I stroke them and turn page 
after page. I look for them everywhere. The piece of 
matzah crumbles over my haggadah. It is as though 
the sand of the land of Egypt were grating under my 
feet. I murmur: "We were slaves" 

The crowded pages begin to choke me. In my ears 
the wind of the desert blows. The pale shadows of the 
colored pictures come closer to me, breathing into my 
mouth. I no sooner touch them with a word than they 
pour out their hearts, their sufferings, relate how they 
trudged in exile in the desert, tarried, and trudged on 
again. Days, nights, years, without water, without 
bread. My soul is drawn into their cycle as though by 
a spinning wheel. I hear their steps. They sweat, 
tramp, with stooped backs. 

My own shoulders are heavy; I too am dragging 
myself over the deep sand. My mouth is parched. I 
find it hard to pronounce the words. They paste my 
lips shutthey feel like lumps of clay. I whisper, bend 
over, try to get into the haggadah, join the long trek, 
walk with all of them, say a word to them, help them 
to carry something 



Suddenly it occurs to me to wonder with a start: 
Were there children with them? They must have 
cried, wailed. 

Where are we? It seems to me that all have lost 
their way. I shall never catch up with them! What 
passage is father reading? I ought to listen to him. His 
voice is calm. Each word falls on the table like a 
measured step. He walks on a smooth road. I should 
like to walk in step with him. Thank God, he has 
stopped for a minute to catch his breath. 

"Now, the plagues!" He makes a sign with his 
hand beckoning that something be given to him into 
which to pour the wine for enumerating the plagues. 

"Water made blood. Frogs" 

Father sounds like a bell. Each plague is pushed 
away, a long drop of wine is poured over it. It is as 
though father wanted to push each trouble as far 
away as possible. He has poured out his whole cup* 

Mother takes the little jug and slowly performs the 
same rite. She is embarrassed lest she name the plagues 
too loudly, she fears to spatter the table. Each holds 
his cup in his hand, as though ready to give battle. 
Each grasps the jug, pours wine into it from the cup; 
they seem to be spitting into the enemy's face. Every 
one aims at the middle of the jug, trying to hurl his 
curse straight to the heart. The plagues fall like bul 
lets to the bottom of the jug. The jug comes to me 
last. So many plagues are bubbling in it! They have 
become as thick as spittle. 

[233] 



"Water made blood. Frogs. Lice. Murrain. Here, 
here, take it"it is as though I were hurling stones. I 
pour the wine, I splash it. I cannot stop my hand. The 
clay jug grows into a clay head of the evil Pharaoh. 
I would gladly pour out all the plagues on him at 
once, break my cup against him, cover him with the 
blood of red wine. 

"Locusts. Darkness that's for my grandfathers and 
grandmothers you persecuted. Firstborn slain that's 
for the tortured babies"! am terrified by the curses, 
by the red stains on the tablecloth, and hurry to pour 
out all my wine. 



ELIJAH THE PROPHET 



EXHAUSTED from eating, from the haggadah read 
ing, we chew our morsels of hard afikoimen. 

Only father conducts himself as befits an emperor. 
Reclining on his pillows, he chews the afikoimen with 
closed eyes, as though he were thinking: "Whither 
will He lead us now?" 

Suddenly he opens his eyes and casts a glance at 
mother. She moves her chair from the table, opens her 
haggadah, takes a half -burned candle from the can 
delabra, and turns to me: "Come, Bashinke, and take 
your haggadah with you." 

I jump up as if stung. My heart is oppressed with 
awe and with exultation, because only I accompany 
mother to go to meet Elijah the Prophet and open the 
door for him. 

Each with an open haggadah in her hand mother 
holds the burning candle too we go quietly out of the 
dining room. The men remain sitting at the table. No 
one budges. Each one looks at us, escorts us with his 
eyes, as though they were all blessing us, their envoys. 

[235] 



We walk quickly through the dark parlor in order 
not to be late, God forbid. That would be the su 
preme mischance that Elijah the Prophet shonld pass 
at our house and find the door closed. The little flame, 
which seems to sweat from our hurry, hardly lights 
the way for us. The candle drips tears perhaps it is 
afraid of the surrounding darkness. We come to the 
little entrance hall My heart pounds; it seems to leave 
my body, to soar up to the sky and drop from terror 
to the dark floor. 

"Take care, cover the candle!" mother says to me 
hurriedly and pushes open the door to the street. The 
black night rushes in, like a wind, blows into my face 
and my skirts, almost extinguishing the candle, and 
shaking us. 

"Now," I think, "Elijah the Prophet is quite close. 
He is probably coming right now. The air is flutter 
ing with the motion of his flying carriage, he is wav 
ing his wings, his spirited horses are catching up with 
a cloud." 

I am afraid to look out from the doorway, lest some 
thing should catch on my clothes. From underfoot 
shadows run forward. I see only a patch of sky. It 
gleams like black velvet. It makes the street black. In 
the black sky, a little star splashes like a fish in water 
and spatters light. Suddenly it looks in at the door. It 
has stopped right over our heads. 

Mother's eyes are lowered. She does not see any 
thing. And what if the little star should fly in at the 

[236] 



door, and Elijah or even the Messiah himself, with 
one leap, should appear behind us? 

I am on edge, I listen. Everywhere there is silence. 
Silence hangs from the sky, hangs over the street, 
over the houses. Not a step is to be heard. The lan 
terns burn each with a thin little flame. 

In the house across the way, through the windows, 
there wanders a reflection of a burning candle. Is 
there a door open now in every house? Is there in 
every doorway a mother with a little girl holding a 
candle in her hand? 

Suddenly there is a noise behind our backs: chairs 
are being pushed from their places. Perhaps the whole 
table has fallen apart. It is the men. Hearing us open 
the door, they have all risen from their seats and are 
reading the haggadah in voices so loud that they seem 
to be trying to rouse the night itself. 

We stand there feeling buried under their voices. I 
move very close to mother, I want to cling to her 
skirts, so that when the black night drags us away we 
shall at least be together. 

The little candle, wide awake, bends, sways to all 
sides. I put a hand around it, screen it from the wind, 
so that it should not go out, so that we should not, 
God forbid, remain in darkness facing the open black 
hole of the doorway. 

Mother quietly recites from the haggadah; perhaps, 
she feels, the silent night will listen more attentively 
to her quiet prayers. Her lips are bajrely moving, her 



face is wrinkled up, her spectacles slide down from 
her nose. The candle goes out. It seems to me that we 
are standing here forgotten. 

I place my head under the haggadah, under moth 
er's hands with her ardent blessings falling on me, I 
shall not be afraid any longer. 

"Elijah the Prophet/' I pray, "have mercy on us! 
Come down quickly! It is cold, dark. Come to our 
house! Everyone is waiting for you. And you'll be 
warmer too. Do you hear how my father is praying? 
He never cries, and today he is praying so loudly. 
Come then, Elijah the Prophet, come!" 

A streak of light passes across the doorway, cuts 
through the air. I want to raise my head, to see what 
mother is doing, what is going on in heaven. My eyes 
are suffused with darkness, there is no way of opening 
them. I feel that I cannot stand the light; it makes 
my eyes blink. 

"Next year in Jerusalem!" A last cry comes from 
the dining room. 

Again the chairs have been pushed up to the table, 
and there is silence. 

"Mother, has Elijah already gone into our house?" 

"Next year in Jerusalem!" She throws the words 
into the open doorway as though in answer. 

I look out into the street. The wind has subsided. 
The sky is studded with stars, big ones, little ones, 
come from all the ends of the world. They hang like 
lighted candles with their heads down. Their rays of 

[239] 



light crisscross, one enhances the other, and all of 
them together sway like a canopy under which soon 
the white moon will come like a bride in ail her glory. 

Having closed her haggadah, mother makes a sign 
with her hands, stroking the airshe might be bring 
ing something down from heaven. Perhaps? Perhaps? 
She does not want to go away from the open door. 
She strokes the air for the last time it is like a kiss 
and closes the door. 

We go back silently. The cool night blows on our 
backs, taking us by our shoulders with its hands of air. 

In the dining room it is light and warm. All of 
them are sitting with lowered eyes, humming the 
haggadah passage. No one gives us even a glance. 
Mother silently sits down. The humming air envelops 
me, surrounds me with the old haggadah pages. 

I turn my head back and forth has Elijah the 
Prophet been here? The fluttering of my heart flick 
ers out. 



[240] 



THE AFIKOIMEN 



ASHA," says mother to our gentile maid, "here, 
give this cup to Ivan." 

"Sp^a-thanks!" 

We hear from a distance the thick voice of our 
watchman, who is supposed to protect us from thieves 
and robbers, 

"Will Ivan drink the whole cup of wine?" I think 
to myself with fear. 

"Fill the cups," father calls out. 

We resume reading the haggadah. A voice rises and 
dies out, as though falling into a well One reader 
hums quietly through his nose, some others hurry; 
they probably want to eat. 

Father rises from his seat first. He goes to wash his 
hands. The children mix up all the haggadahs. There 
is a jostling at the washstand; the jug, the wet towel 
are torn from one's hands. There is once more a rush 
to the table. They catch the pieces of matzah that 
father distributes for the blessing; the hard pieces 
jump over the table until they are stopped by the 
hands that snatch them up. 



"Here, Bashke you like maror?" And father gives 
me a second portion of it. 

I spread it thickly between two pieces of matzah 
and chew the bitter tidbit. Egg yolks cramble 
under mother's fork and yellow the salted water. 
Everyone sips his spoonful of the mixture with wrin 
kled nose. 

Meanwhile I forget to watch where father hides 
the afikoimen. His pillow is full of down like a stuffed 
belly how can I look for it? Now the fish is being 
served. Mother's hand is stretched over the table. 
Everyone holds up his plate. Then the knedlach come; 
they are easily swallowed with the yellow soup. 

"Who has a dumpling to spare? Give it to me, to 
me!" the children beg one another. 

"Hurry up with the meal. Otherwise it will be late 
when it comes to the afikoimen," father urges us. 

He is resting from eating. Sated and tired, we are 
longing to go to sleep. We look at father. For some 
reason he squirms in his chair. He turns over his 
pillows, looking for the afikoimen. 

"Ah, you brats, you did manage to steal it!" And 
he smiles. 

I sit like one cheated. I did not see either where he 
hid it or who stole it. Annoyed, I look at one, then at 
another. 

"Aha, I have stolen it despite everything!" 
Abrashke cries out. He holds high the afikoimen. His 
eyes gleam. 

04*] 



"Fine, fine, now let's hear what you want for it!" 
father says. 

"Oh, I won't give it up unless, unless" 

Here Abrashke in his eagerness begins to think up 
some very great gift. I look at him, frightened, almost 
glad that I have not stolen the afikoimen. For I would 
only have asked for some little thing. Such audacity 
in the middle of the year no one would open his 
mouth to ask for even a trifle. But father, like a real 
emperor, does not even think of bargaining. 

"Well, that's too bad! But you're not a fool You'll 
get what you want. But now hurry up and give me 
the afikoimen. It's getting late." 

Merrily we bite into our pieces of hard afikoimen. 



[243] 




TISHAH B'AV 



I SPEND almost all summer in the village. Hosts of 
flies hum. Through the branches the sun comes in 
brilliant little circles. There is no way of catching 
them, the little moons. They jump out of one's hands, 
from under one's feet, they do not let themselves be 
trampled on. Here in the village I forget the city. It 
seems to me that I myself am a blade of grass, a plant. 
I walk around barefooted. I begin to smell of earth, 
of rain water. I lie like a red berry at the edge of the 
field. Blue little flowers, like blue bonnets, lure me, 
wink at one another among the full ears of corn. 

[244] 



I go into the woods, I clamber over the tangled 
roots of the trees that have been felled. I look for 
blackberries and I gather them in a little basket. I look 
at my bare feet. They grow longer, thicker. I stuff 
myself with sun and air. I do not notice how days and 
nights run by, how the sun is running away some 
where, moving ever farther off and sinking deeper, 
and every evening casts a longer shadow on the earth. 

"Bashke, come back, tomorrow is Tishah b'Av" 
thus mother sends me word from the city. 

I am glad. It's a long time that I have been away 
from home. 

"Oh, how you have grown!" Sasha will cry out. 

Mother, concealing her joy, will just glance at me 
so that no evil eye should strike me, God forbid. 

Gaily I come to our house and stop in the doorway. 

Has someone died? Why is everyone weeping? 
Why has mother told me to come home? I have fallen 
from a bright sky into a dark pit. 

I stand and look at mother, who sits with lowered 
head, reading a supplication. She weeps silently, does 
not look at me. The long white tablecloth is stretched 
like a corpse on the empty table. In the candelabras 
the burned-out candles are melting. A couple of 
books lie between them. Father stands at one side. His 
white socks strike the eye. It makes my heart ache. 
Dear God, why are they all so gray and black? It is 
summer outside. The sun is shining. Gentile grown- 



ups and children are running about, laughing. And 
here? 

On low stools, as on stones, father and mother sit 
mourning. They are like stones, petrified. The floor 
is covered with sand and dust. Tears stream from 
their eyes. 

What sins have my parents committed that they 
must pray to God in this way? What misfortune do 
they lament? My brother Mendl says to me sorrow 
fully: "We deserted our holy Temple. It was burned. 
Our land was ruined. It is the ninth of Av." 

Sadness comes upon me. The little red and blue 
flowers are still blooming in rny eyes. One blow has 
dispelled my warm summer. 

Abrashke comes running in and pulls me by the 
sleeve. 

"What are you standing here for?" he says. "Come 
to the courtyard, we'll throw pine cones at each 
other!" 

I feel quite indifferent. I allow myself to be dragged 
to the yard. Abrashke has prepared a whole pile of 
cones. If all these cones hit me, I shall be scratched to 
bleeding. I hold my hands over my eyes. Abrashke is 
now firing the cones as from a gun. They get into my 
hair, stick to my dress. I find it hard to move. 

"Abrashke, that's enough! Now let me throw a 
little too!" I am almost in tears. I grab a handful of 
cones. "Here, here! Now I'll hit you too!" 

I tear the prickly cones from my dress and throw 
[246] 



them at Abrashke. I throw and throw. I do not see 
what my brother is doing. And he? He calmly gath 
ers them together and pastes them on himself like 
buttons. He sticks a cone on his cap. His whole chest 
is studded with cones. 

From the open windows there comes a choked la 
ment: "How doth the city sit solitary! Shall never 
joy return to us?" 




I 



V 




A WEDDING 



BEFORE sunset it is always gloomy in our house. 
Everyone stays in the shop till late at night. All 
of them have drunk their tea long ago. The cold 
samovar stands as though its soul had flickered out. 
The chandelier hums. Long shadows stretch from it 
over the table. All day long the dining room has been 
full of hubbub. Now it is like a dark abyss; I am afraid 
of falling in. 

I fancy that if I remain sitting like this, the chan 
delier out of anger will pull me up to itself. And if I 

[248] 



cry out, who will hear me? Even the glasses still 
standing on the table will not budge. I am afraid of 
the lamp and the cold samovar. I am afraid to look at 
its brass belly. Across it my pale face is spinning. 

If only someone would come! Where are my 
brothers? Where do they run about every evening? 
In the streets there is wind, frost. But they come 
home cheerful, with a booty of freshly gathered 
stories. 

"Abrashke, where have you been?" I ask. 
"Not anywhere," he throws back. 
"And what have you done, Abrashke?" 
"Nothing!" And he laughs. 
I sit at the table, prop my head on my outspread 
hands, and look into my brothers' open mouths. 
"Ha, ha, ha!" one brother interrupts the other. 
"What piece of news are you telling me here, you 
horse's head?" 

"But I saw it with my own eyes!" 
"You stupid fool, you think that because you saw 
it, it was true? I know that man better than you do, 
I-" 

It is gay when my brothers are about I am never 
afraid. I envy them. They can go wherever they want 
to; mother won't scold them. But I? Where shall I 
take myself? To the kitchen? I am weary of the 
kitchen. All day long it is saturated with all kinds of 
food. And it must be dark there, with the little lamp. 
No, I won't go to the kitchen. 



Shall I go to the shop? There It is certainly light 
and cheerful But the moment I stick out my head 
from behind the curtain, they will yell at me: "What 
do you want? Go home! We've got plenty to do 
without you." 

I am always a nuisance. This I must leave alone, 
there I must not creep in. So I drop the curtain and 
take myself away. I stumble into the entrance hall. I 
see my coat hanging on the half-dark wall. My white 
hood protrudes from its sleeve. Should I try perhaps 
to go out into the street? 

Half -dressed, I run down the staircase that leads to 
the balcony. A tall, dark stairway looms up behind 
my back, like a black snake. 

Quickly I push open the big door. A white, snowy 
path opens up before me like a sky. The cold tickles 
my nose. A thin snow scatters fresh, light little pearls. 
I fill myself with the fresh air as if it were water. It is 
quiet in the street the snow has buried all the voices. 

In the white, snow-covered lanterns frozen little 
flames are burning. The drivers stand at the curb like 
mounds of snow. Their horses seem not to be breath 
ing under their wet sacking. They scarcely seem alive. 
Only a few people are walking in the street. The 
white snow creaks under their feet. I start walking too. 

I run along the wide street. From a distance I see a 
big, lighted courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard 
there is a two-story house. Through its windows one 
sees long, spacious rooms wedding halls. 



Every night a wedding is celebrated here. Even 
from outside, the house looks like a lofty hall. Two 
large candelabras hang high in the air; like two lions 
they hold up the balcony. Today too there must be a 
wedding. Whose would it be? 

The snow is falling around me, thicker and thicker. 
A ball of snow drops from a candelabra. It splashes 
like a tear at rny feet. 

I hear steps. Who is coming? I watch. People are 
approaching from a gate. They are dragging a large 
copper siphon tank that sprawls like an uncouth ani 
mal on the shoulders of a couple of men. They come 
closer. A little stream of soda water spatters into my 
face. I jump up. Should I laugh or cry? 

"I don't bother you, what have you against me?" 
And I sneeze into their faces. 

"Ha, ha, ha! A strange girl she likes weddings and 
washes herself with soda water!" They whinny. 

Waiters come, one after another. They carry vari 
ous things, one a soft cake that still gives off its 
warmth, another a jar of pickles that gurgles in his 
hands; still another bears pans containing large sponge 
cakes. 

Tables are dragged in. Wide boards sway in the air 
between pairs of legs. 

"What are you carrying?" I want to see every 
thing. 

"Do we know? It is all kinds of foods chalks, 



stuffed fish, whatever your heart desires, little girl," 
the merry waiters say, smacking their dry lips. 

I move to one side to let them pass. Doors fly open 
before them. The tables, as they push them in, blow 
the cold air to all sides. Chairs stand scattered along 
the walls. One corner is fenced off with palms, like a 
little garden. Under their green shadows stands a. tall 
chair, rising high like a throne. A red rug lies there. 
The tall chair is waiting. What bride will sit in it 
today? 

I look at the chair. It is an old man with sunken 
cheeks. From its emaciated cushion sparse fringes 
hang down. 

How many brides have sat on that cushion? Each 
bride has left in it her fear and her tremblings. 

All the other chairs can be moved about, but the 
high throne with its sunken cushion stands in one 
spot, waiting. What is it waiting for? It is waiting as 
for a light in the darkness for the white bride. 

Not until the bride comes will the chair come to 
life. It will breathe, it will fill itself with air and 
whiteness. The carved heads on its back will bend 
toward the bride. And when the bride sighs, the chair 
will utter a groan. And when the bride melts into 
tears, the chair will embrace her with its uplifted 
arms, because the bride, whether she is pretty or ugly, 
will burst into tears in its arms and readily pour out 
her heart. 

The chair is read. As the bride raises her hand- 



kerchief to her eyes, the chair will absorb her warm 
tears and store them in the old wood. But only a deli 
cate chink, a tiny little hole will be bored in the chair. 
The bride who will sit in- it tomorrow will not know 
anything of the tears of today's bride. For she does 
not see anything; she approaches the chair as though 
she were blind, with lowered eyes. When she sits 
down, her white veil is spread over the chair. And as 
if she were lifted on two wings, she is suspended in 
the air, ready to run away to another world. And so 
the bride does not feel the tears of her sister of yester 
day. She sheds her tears on the old chair and leaves 
her bit of weeping heart. 

But where is she, the bride? The tall chair still 
stands empty. It is embarrassed. Everyone is a little 
afraid of it. People take a detour around it. 

Women jostle one another in the halls as though 
they had lost their way. 

"I wish the ceremony were already over. May it 
bring good fortune. This day is somehow dragging as 
though it were made of pitch." 

"What do you say? A pretty little bride, eh? She 
really deserves to be blessed by God!" 

"Amen, so be it, may she be happy!" the women 
whisper, breathing heavily in their smoothly ironed 
dresses. 

But why hasn't she come? She is probably still at 
home. She is being dressed in white. Her black hair 
has already been brushed, braided into a coronet. 

[254] 



Young, white hands, and older hands, furrowed with 
veins, fuss over her hair. 

"Hand me a pin! Have you got a pin?" one 
woman asks another. 

"Come, Manichke, you're well educated you'll be 
better at pinning the veil on the hair/' they call to 
someone. 

What does she look like, the bride? Isn't a bride 
just a long white dress that drags over the ground like 
a living thing, with an airy veil floating after her? 
Through it, seen as through glass, the bride looks re 
mote, far off . 

Perhaps even now she is riding through the dark 
streets. Her veil falls from the narrow sleigh and 
merges with the blue snow. Her old mother is coming 
with her, holding her fast she does not want to let 
her flesh and blood go from her arms. Was she not 
once also a bride, so white, so young? The sleigh 
glides on. 

"Are you not cold, my child? Take care, don't 
catch cold!" 

I too begin to feel cold. I see something has blown 
past the windows, as though a silken dress had gone 
by. Have I missed the bride then? 

I look around. Waiters spread broad white table 
cloths, which fall with a rustle on the long tables. 
They spread in a flood, they cover the black floor 
beneath them. The waiters laugh, run, jostle one an 
other. Plates, spoons, forks clatter on the tables, 

[255] 



"Let the stuffed fish pass!" a scrawny fellow sings 
out and wriggles like a fish; on his tray there glistens a 
shining tail. 

"And my chopped liver!" another waiter shouts. 

"Here is a dish of petcha, make way, make way!" 

The helpers push about. 

Around me is the stir of guests arriving. The stairs 
groan under their feet. Every woman who comes in 
fills the air with her panting breath. I squeeze my way 
through them. I run down to the balcony. I would 
rather wait here for the bride. I want to see how she 
will jump down out of the air and put her feet on the 
ground. I hide in a corner. People's furs shake their 
collars full of snow down on me. White beards turn 
black. From wet woolen shawls there protrude 
women's fluffed wigs little women studded with 
flowers and pearls. Single snowflakes like little dia 
monds remain gleaming in their hair. 

The snow is melting under my feet. I feel wet and 
cold. A sleigh glides up to the balcony. Is this not the 
bride? 

A couple of stuffed sacks roll out from it little 
girls with red little faces. 

"Oof!" They blow into their gloves. 

Their tangled shawls unroll. Bare shoulders, naked 
arms appear, and dazzling pink and blue dresses. 
These must be the bride's sisters. They flutter in all 
directions. They squeal. "Rose," shrills one, "see how 



pretty it is here! Oh, so much light! I don't see any 
thing!" 

"Rivke, quick, look up what's going on up there?" 

"That's right, children, go up to the hall. You 
might catch cold here God forbid!" The older 
women push them away. 

Indeed, the women need this room for themselves. 
Their fox mantles fall from their shoulders like gates 
opened wide. The furs twist about and smack me 
with their warm tails. 

No one pays any attention to me. They know there 
is a little girl here wrapped in her hood; she stands 
like a stranger and looks on. I feel embarrassed. I look 
at my weekday dress. A pity that I did not change 
into another dress! I look up to the lower stair; under 
the raised skirts one can see long white stockings 
reaching up to the buttocks. Let them have a good 
time, the short little girls, let them jump with their 
white legs! I cannot restrain my tears. 

I am annoyed because I am not one of the invited 
guests at the wedding. I would have been dressed in 
my pink silk dress. Sasha would have brushed my 
long pigtails and tied them with a flowered ribbon. 
My dress would lift lightly as soon as I stood on the 
tips of my black patent leather shoes. When the music 
began, I would stand in the middle of the hall and 
shove my feet as a little goat snuggles its feet into 
grass. 
If I had come with my brother Abrashke, we 

[>S7] 



would be asked to dance a pas de qnatre. "Be so kind 
as to move aside a bit," they would say. "Let the chil 
dren dance. It's such a pleasure to watch them!" 

All the guests sit in a circle about the hall, making a 
ring with their outspread skirts. I bend one leg. My 
shoulder too is bent, as though I were falling. Then I 
glance at Abrashke, and at once rise on the tips of my 
toes and look in another direction. Abrashke holds me 
fast. Several times we bend and rise again. The little 
violin plays. Suddenly a drum begins to sound. The 
lamps blaze brighter. I do not see any faces. Only the 
women's bellies sway in rhythm. They smile while 
they do this, trying to help us as we dance. We seem 
to be carried away in the air. I throw back my di 
sheveled hair, like a shadow that has crept into my 
eyes. 

Then the music goes drunk and pounds out a ma 
zurka. There is no way of holding back one's legs. 
Abrashke stamps his feet and tosses me in all direc 
tions. It seems to me that we have jumped over the 
hall, that we are dancing somewhere else. The ma 
zurka stops as suddenly as it began. We remain 
standing. 

Hands drag us toward them. 

"How old are you, little girl? Ah, but this is Alta's 
youngest!" And they stroke our necks. 

"May they be spared from the evil eye, good chil 
dren as they are! That a boy should be able to dance 
so well!" And they pinch our cheeks. 



The music has stopped, as though forever. I feel 
cold. The air is gradually cooling. A cold wind has 
begun to blow into my face. I am still standing at the 
open door. It has opened wide. Through it comes a 
mountain of snow. The mountain straightens up and 
scatters snow like rain. A tall man grows out of the 
white mountain. 

"Well, it's Bashke! What are you doing here? 
Hasn't the bride come yet? Let's go upstairs. Why 
are you standing here in such cold? Ooh!" He blows 
on his frozen hands. "What, Bashinke, you don't 
recognize me? Wait, some day I'll lead you to the 
canopy too!" And he bursts into laughter. 

Everything shakes about him. I look at his Adam's 
apple jumping up and down. Of course I know him 
he is the jester. I stand waiting for the bride, and he 
has come for the wedding. 

He takes me upstairs. He inhales the wedding air 
through his long nose. His ears dance. He shakes his 
head. His head is all tuned like a violin, ready to be 
played. Then why does everyone burst into tears 
when he, who is merry, calls out, "Let us bless the 
bride!" 

He gets into your soul with his voice. He knows 
everyone's family. He knows every aunt, every 
cousin. He knows whether the bride has a father, a 
mother. He knows what is happening in everyone's 
life, what is going on in anyone's heart. As though he 
had a rope in his hand, he pulls each person into the 

[259] 



middle of the hall and plays on him as on chords. One 
by one he calls out the names of those who must bless 
the bride. The name echoes for a long timeuntil the 
aunt who has been called heavily crosses the big 
room. Is she still on her way? She totters a little, as if 
she were full to the brim of benedictions. 

When the jester raises his voice, everyone's heart is 
crushed. His voice trembles even more, and everyone 
is frightened, as though the aunt were approaching a 
corpse. 

The lighted candles held around the bride are 
quivering. The bride sits like a frightened white bird. 
The aunt comes closer, raises her arms as when she 
blesses the Sabbath candles. The bride lowers her 
head even more. Blindly she gropes for her hand 
kerchief. Now her soul will surge up and pour itself 
forth in bitter tears. 

Her aunt pities her. She does not touch her. She 
blesses her from a distance, like a star. The jester looks 
at everyone, quickly calls out other names. People 
catch their breath, blow their noses. 

All the guests comfort the bride. They cool her 
with fans. They straighten out her veil, which has 
twisted awry on her head. They blow at the hair that 
sticks to her forehead because she is perspiring. 

Squeezing my hand, the jester drags me up the 
stairs. 

"What are you doing? What are you doing?" he 
[160] 



quacks, as soon as he appears in the doorway of the 
hall. 

The circles of women disperse. I slink along the 
wall. 

What is that? I rush to the door* A white cloud 
rises from the stairs. A light wind begins to blow. A 
little violin cuts the white air and curls it into a sweet 
melody. The cymbals and the dram have slipped in, 
panting. 

Now she has come, the white bride, light as air. 
With every step she takes, her heart lifts. The musi 
cians play above, below, at the side. They cushion her 
path. On the last step she stops. Should she go farther? 

People have crowded back to the walls. Even if she 
were blind she could walk to her throne. She looks at 
her white slippers gliding like boats over the floor. 

I stand glued to other people's backs. We push one 
another as though we wanted to roll the bride up to 
the high shore. 

At some distance a row of men is drawn up. They 
are dressed in black. At the head of them a young 
man walks with trembling steps. His high hat too 
trembles on his head. He comes closer to the bride's 
whiteness. The bride, it seems, is afraid of him, and 
he of the bride. 

In our hands we hold gaily colored confetti. The 
jester sings. The men accompanying the bridegroom 
come closer and closer. The red rug is now entirely 
covered with black shoes. The bride draws herself up 



and waits. We keep behind her. The bridegroom with 
one twist of his hands throws her white veil over her; 
he might be throwing it over himself as if he were 
lifted in the air with his bride. 

We scatter our confetti on him, like stars from 
heaven. We scatter it on ourselves. 

Like a cloud covering the black floor, the bride re 
mains alone. We rush to her. We no longer see her 
face. She is supported at her arms, at her sides. 

A little red sky has spread in the middle of the hall. 
It is supported on big poles. The bride, almost faint 
ing, is led to the canopy. 




GLOSSARY 



Afikoimeti (H, afikoman) the piece of matzah eaten at the 
conclusion of the seder. The afikoman is hidden by the 
father, later to be "stolen" by the children 

Balebos (H, baal ha-bayit) the head of the family; a house 
holder 

Baleboste (F) the mother of the house; a hostess 

Barinke (7) lady 

Bar-mizvah (H) a boy who on reaching his thirteenth year 
becomes a "son of the commandment," i.e., reaches re 
ligious maturity 

Challa (H, challah) the white bread eaten at Sabbath and 
holiday meals 

Charoset (H) the mixture of ground nuts, fruits, and 
spices, symbolizing mortar, eaten at the seder 

Cheder (H) elementary Jewish school 

Chometz (H, chametz) leavened bread, proscribed at 
Passover 

Chumash (H) the Five Books of Moses (Pentateuch) 

Etrog (H) a citrus fruit used in the synagogue at Sukkot; 

pi. etrogim 

Gabbai (H) a collector; a director of the synagogue 
Gemara (Aramaic) a part of the Talmud 

H indicates that the word or phrase is derived from the Hebrew, 
Y that it is from Yiddish. 



Goy (H) nation; gentile 

Goyish (F) gentile (adj.) 

Gute Woch (F) "A good week": greeting at the con 
clusion of the Sabbath 

Gut yom-tov (Y) "A good holiday": holiday greeting 

Haggadah (H) the book containing the story of the 
exodus from Egypt, read at the seder 

Hakkafot (H) the carrying of the Torah in procession on 
Simchat Torah 

Hanukkah (H, Chanukkah) the Feast of Lights, com 
memorating the rededication of the Temple by the 
Maccabees 

Havdalah (H) the benediction at the conclusion of the 
Sabbath and holidays 

Kapporeh, pi. kappores (H, kapparot) "atonement": on the 
eve of the Day of Atonement each member of the house 
hold swings a fowl over his head while reciting penitential 
prayers. After this the fowl is slaughtered and the value 
of it given to the poor 

Kiddush (H, sanctification) the benediction at the com 
mencement of the Sabbath and holidays 

Kittel (F) a ceremonial garment 

Kosher (H, kasher) fit for consumption according to the 
dietary laws; proper; in accordance with Jewish ritual 

Le-chayim (H ) "For life": a toast with wine or spirits 

Machzor (H) a holiday prayer book 

Mah-nishtahah (H) "What is the difference": the phrase 
introducing the four questions asked by the youngest 
child at the seder 

Maror (H) the bitter herbs eaten at the seder 

Matzah (H) the unleavened bread eaten during Passover 

Matzah shemurah (H) unleavened bread prepared with 
especially strict observance of the Passover regulations 

Megillah (H ) scroll, in particular the scroll of Esther 

Melammed (H) a teacher, especially in an elementary 
Jewish school 

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Mezuzah (H) the scroll inscribed with biblical texts that 

is attached to the doorpost in the Jewish home 
Mikvah (H) ritual bath 
Mi-sheberach (H) "He who has blessed": introductory 

words of a benediction 
Musaf (H) the additional prayer recited on the Sabbath, 

New Moon, and holidays 
Pesach (H) the Passover 
Purim (H) "casting of lots": the holiday commemorating 

Haman's fall 

Raboisai (H, rabbotai) gentlemen 
Reb (Y) a colloquial title of address 
Rebbe (H, rabbi) rabbi, teacher 
Rebbetzin (F) a rabbi's wife 
Rosh ha-Shanah (H) the New Year 
Seder (H) "order": the ceremony carried out in the home 

on the first two nights of Passover 

Selichot (H) prayers for forgiveness on the days preced 
ing Rosh ha-Shanah and between Rosh ha-Shanah and 
Yom Kippur 

Shabbes (H, Shabbat) Sabbath 

Shalesh sudes (H, shalosh seudot) the three meals of the 
Sabbath; usually the third meal eaten on the Sabbath 
afternoon 

Shames (H, shammash) the caretaker of a synagogue 
Shehecheyanu (H ) "He who has sustained us": a benedic 
tion on special occasions 
Shemoneh Esreh (H) the Eighteen Benedictions in the 

three daily services 
Shikse (7) a gentile maid 
Shkutsim (F) rascals 

Shochet (H) a slaughterer according to the Jewish law 
Shofar (H) the rani's horn sounded on Rosh ha-Shanah 
Shul (7) a synagogue 

Siddur (H) the order of prayers; a prayer book 
Simchat Torah (H) the Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law 

[267] 



Sukkah (H) a hut inhabited on the Sukkot days, to com 
memorate the wandering in the desert 

Sukkot (H) the Feast of Tabernacles 

Talis (H 3 tallit) a prayer shawl; pi talesirn 

Talis-koton (H) a small tallit worn as an undergarment 

Tashlich (H) a ceremony carried out on Rosh ha-Shanah, 
symbolizing the casting off of sins 

Tefillin (H) phylacteries, ie., scrolls inscribed with bibli 
cal texts that are worn on the arm and head during the 
daily morning worship 

Tishah b'av (H) Ninth Day of Av: a fast commemorating 
the destruction of the Temple 

Torah (H) Book of the Law; the Bible, especially the 
Pentateuch 

Tref (H, terefah) forbidden food 

Trefniak (Y) one who eats forbidden food 

Yehudim (H) Jews 

Yom Kippur (H) the Day of Atonement 



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